For some time, the news has been filled with reports on the tragic fire on the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers. The additional dimensions of this event have become increasingly clear as the ruptured well a mile beneath the stricken drilling platform has continued to spew crude oil into the sea.
Efforts by majority owner BP PLC to stanch the oil flow have failed and neither a cap over the well on the sea floor, tubes to siphon off the oil to tankers above nor the injection of driller’s “mud” and assorted junk into the well itself have been successful. Millions of gallons of crude have poured into the Gulf, and the solution to stopping the flow may be months away.
The disastrous environmental consequences already are being felt with enlarging sections of the Gulf closed to fishing, coastal marshes and wildlife being fouled by oil and the economic livelihood of the entire region compromised and even ruined. The entire federal government is embroiled in the process, and BP has become the environmental bad actor of all time. Reports indicate that this is the largest environmental disaster ever to visit the United States.
I have read reports about this catastrophe daily and have become increasingly concerned about the long-term consequences of a tragedy that seems to have no end. I worry about the coastal ecology, the birds, the fish and a way of life that depends on these things.
In the Genesis story of creation, God created man and directed him to bring the earth under control including the fish, birds and all wild animals. The current mess is a far cry from this scriptural charge.
Although we are not affected directly by this event here in the Ozarks, already it has lessons for us to contemplate. The immediate task is to stop the oil flow even as the cause of the disaster is plumbed and liabilities assessed. Our economy may depend on oil, but the political cry of recent days to “drill, baby, drill” is insufficient considering the environmental imperatives essential to controlling the resources we’ve been given.
Clearly, new environmental regulations will be forthcoming for offshore oil exploration and recovery.
This is another case of the downside of human nature, being the messy creatures we are. People don’t intend to make messes, and many times they don’t realize they are doing so. Will the bottom line in the Gulf disaster be that shortcuts were taken in drilling, that bad decisions were made and that getting oil to market took precedence over safety and environmental responsibility? We can hope not, but time will tell. Obviously, there must be a balance between productivity, safety and environmental concerns.
Although not of the magnitude of the Gulf oil spill, we have several issues in the Ozarks that remind us of the environmental downside of our activities. There are the water wells in the Rogersville area contaminated with trichloroethylene, or TCE, a toxic chemical. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources found that TCE had infiltrated the aquifer and polluted these wells, and the source has yet to be identified. Without question, it’s another example of some human activity gone awry.
Then, there are the swimming beaches in state parks closed due to elevated bacteria counts. Lake of the Ozarks, the E. coli poster child (well, perhaps poster lake) of the region during the past year, has been flush again with high bacteria counts. Although the source of the bacteria is not specifically known, failing septic systems are a likely culprit. Again, it’s a commentary on the messiness we all too often create.
While there are environmental downsides to most human activity, if care is exercised and sensitive consideration given to the environmental consequences, a proper balance can be struck. We will hope the Gulf oil leak will be squelched soon and the Herculean cleanup task completed as quickly as possible. Closer to home, we might hope that environmental concerns being reported will focus debate and attention to better care for the natural world over which we’ve been given dominion.
John E. Moore Jr., executive director of the Upper White River Basin Foundation, can be reached at email@example.com.[[In-content Ad]]