Monday, June 07, 2010

DAY 49 - Outside the Box Solutions to Oil Disaster Cleanup: BP, Government MIA

Rachel Maddow was on site in Louisiana Friday night, reporting on the utter devastation visited by BP on American shores and territorial waters. Rachel’s closing commentary was the best part of her hour, although there was a surreal quality to some of the cheerfulness. Rachel took unnecessary risks to bring us the “Bird Island” story, with good historical context about the buildup of the island and consequent revival of its pelican population, which is now being destroyed by BP’s eco-genocide. It could have been done remotely without any of the wooziness and “drunk” sensation Rachel reported after so many hours out in the middle of that muck. Prolonged ingestion of airborne chemicals; not a good thing.

Rachel’s no Larry King, nor Richard Engel, much less the corporate PBS Newshour. The Admiral Thad Allen interview was just okay. It could have been less deferential. As much as the Admiral’s spit-and-polish demeanor inspires confidence in a by-the-book chain of command style that allocates resources and manages the crisis response efficiently, there is a lingering unease that the government’s response is still slow to get out of the box. By the time anyone in government gets around to addressing some of the proposed alternative solutions they might not even get to first without being called out. That’s the public perception. Admiral Allen said today, without specifying, that other technological responses to the BP Gulf oil catastrophe are being evaluated.

How long will it take? This is day 49! Perception is reality and, from the public’s perspective, all that can be done to address this crisis is not being done. This disaster is one of those that you throw everything you’ve got at it. And Mr. President, sorry, but the public doesn’t really care if you have a Nobel laureate on your team. As a matter of fact, in reading your history, you’ll know that too many eggheads without a scientist in the mold of a Robert Oppenheimer who speaks their language and pushes them will devolve into endless theoretical “evaluations” that preclude action and urgency.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu (the Nobel laureate) has not stepped up as the Oppenheimer of the BP disaster response. Admiral Allen’s “in situ” techno-speak is getting real old real fast. The public wants a scientist who’s in charge of the technological and scientific aspects of the crisis and can address, with authority, the multiple out-of-the-box alternatives to this disaster, including bioremediation. Where is our Robert Oppenheimer, Mr. President? Even assuming that some alternatives might turn out to be duds, there’s unlimited imperiled coastline where they can be tested and evaluated under real, not laboratory, conditions. The following are just a few of the alternative solutions to the cleanup that have so far disappeared down the BP/government rabbit hole:
  • Bioremediation –- why is the U.S. government response seemingly neglecting this option/solution? The science is solid, and LSU’s “Resources - Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill” website lists several faculty professors on hand and on-call, for the government or the media, as bioremediation experts (follow link for contact info -- In response to the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, members of the media may be interested in contacting some of LSU’s research experts for comment or analysis. If you would like assistance finding an expert to speak with, please contact Ashley K Berthelot in the LSU Office of Communications & University Relations.):
    -Qianxin Lin: Associate Professor, Oceanography and Coastal Sciences. Areas of Expertise: rates and effects of oil spills in coastal marshes; bioremediation, phytoremediation, in-situ burning and restoration of oil spill-impacted coastal marshes; effects and efficacy of oil dispersants.

    -Irving A. Mendelssohn: Professor, Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, School of the Coast and Environment. Areas of Expertise: wetland and barrier island ecology, plant ecology and stress eco-physiology, oil spill impacts and remediation in wetlands. Mendelssohn has assessed impacts of oil spills on wetlands in the U.S. and Canada and has conducted research on factors controlling oil spill impact to wetland vegetation and methods for remediating oiled wetlands, including in-situ burning, phytoremediation and bioremediation.

    -Ralph Portier: Professor, Environmental Sciences, School of the Coast and Environment. Areas of Expertise: Aquatic and marine toxicology; bioremediation; oil spills (including Valdez); protocol for assessing bioremediation techniques; wastewater bioremediation.

  • Another solution proposed by private sector entrepreneurs involves freezing the oil muck as it washes ashore. This demonstration was made for CNN and, apparently, for BP as well, whose standard response is “we’ll get back to you … but don’t count on it.”

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