Speakeasy Science

The Barren Planet Cocktail

So, yesterday, a friend of mine suggested that BP should stand for Barren Planet rather than British Petroleum.

And today The New York Times reported that despite all the evidence that BP’s favorite dispersant (yes, Corexit) is more poisonous and less effective than others on the market, and despite the fact that the EPA order the company to find an alternative by, um, yesterday, the company was still dumping the same old, same old chemical compounds into the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite the fact that there are 11 other approved dispersants on the EPA list.

Talk about warning flags. At least I see two flying pretty freely. And the first one says: BP has no respect for our regulators. And the second says, BP has no respect whatsoever for the beleaguered sea creatures now swimming in an poorly understood but undeniably poisonous industrial cocktail.

I am so fed up with these guys. But the cocktail analogy leads me to a rather interesting idea. Let’s have a mixologist create a drink in BP’s honor, a nice brew of salt water, oil, and dispersant comparable to what’s spreading through the Gulf. And then, since the company officials seem so unconcerned about the hazards, let them toast their accomplishments with their own special mixture.

And in case they’re hungry, it’ll go great with a few Gulf coast oysters and shrimp. Promise.

Comments

  1. #1 Julie
    May 25, 2010

    I am disappointed in this post as I do enjoy trying new recipes. Not this one.

    This oil spill has driven my father to his bed and my sister and brother in law to distraction. It’s devastating to the people living near the Gulf who everyday wake up to this mess right at their doors. We’re headed to Dauphin Island in June and I’ll let you know what I see.

  2. #2 Deborah Blum
    May 25, 2010

    It’s so heartbreaking and it’s so infuriating. I do want a Dauphin Island report but, boy, if things aren’t better by June, I’m going to need a stronger cocktail.

  3. #3 daedalus2u
    May 25, 2010

    I looked at BP’s response letter and if one of the alternatives does contain something that degrades to nonyl phenol, that would be enough for me to not use it no matter what the acute toxicity of the others is. Nonyl phenol is a persistent endocrine disrupter. It should not be used in this application (or in other applications either, but that is another story). Nonoxynol-9 is a surfactant that does degrade to nonyl phenol. It is used as a spermicide.

    The differences between the different toxicities are small, and within the margin of error for other species. I think that where it is used and how it is used is much more important than what is used or even how much is used.

    All of the possible surfactants are going to be toxic, and are all going to have about the same toxicity. There simply are not other surfactants that will work in sea water than are available and that are non-toxic. The toxicity is an inherent property of a surfactant.

  4. #4 Deborah Blum
    May 25, 2010

    We agree on this: toxic by nature. And I also agree that there aren’t really good alternatives in this situation and that the more oil we can keep away from vulnerable ecosystems on shore, the better. I was intrigued and dismayed, I guess, by the multiplier effect with oil and I do wonder – not sure we’ll ever know this – what that really means in terms of aquatic life in the area. But do you remember that old T.H. White quote: shed light, not heat. I’ve always thought the best the way approach a bad situation is to illuminate as best you can. If nothing else, there’s less thrashing around in the dark. How’s that for a high-minded statement?!!

  5. #5 yogi-one
    May 26, 2010

    I guess, by the multiplier effect with oil and I do wonder – not sure we’ll ever know this – what that really means in terms of aquatic life in the area.

    What it means is this: The Gulf is hosed. It’s finished. There is no going back to the way it was before. If you could clean it all up, what you’d have is a sterilized, over-acidified ocean dead zone.

    Have you ever swam in a dead zone? I have. I remember swimming in the South China sea off the coast of the Philippines and wondering what was wrong with the water – it was not invigorating, it did not give me oxygen and refreshment, the way I remembered swimming in the ocean during my youth. There were no fish in the water, no crabs running all along the beach.

    Then it hit me – this was what they call a dead zone. This is the future of our oceans.

    This is the future of the Gulf of Mexico.

    If you don’t want it to be that way. Now is the time to do something about it.

  6. #6 daedalus2u
    May 26, 2010

    I think the Gulf is a lot different than Alaska in terms of the capacity for degrading the oil and in terms of capacity to recover. It is a lot warmer, the Gulf already has lots and lots of bacteria that can degrade these things.

    I think it is very important to not over-react and do stupid things because of our ignorance of what to do. Steam-cleaning a marsh might make a cosmetic improvement, but if it kills all the bacteria that degrade the oil it could make the ultimate recovery much slower.

  7. #7 daedalus2u
    May 26, 2010

    I disagree with yogi #5. The long term problem in the Gulf is the same as the long term problem everywhere else on
    Earth, global warming. If that isn’t slowed and stopped, then the shore will move inland a few hundred miles as sea level goes up 7 meters when Greenland melts, another 7 meters when the West Antarctic ice sheet melts and another 50 meters when the East Antarctic ice sheet melts.

    Fertilizer, sewage, herbicide and pesticide run-off coming down the Mississippi and loss of wetlands to take those nutrients out of the water before it gets into the Gulf is (I think) likely to have greater long term effects because those are all ongoing.

    I think a big danger will be to blame all adverse effects in the Gulf on the BP spill, and so not do anything to mitigate any other pollution sources and not to prevent over fishing. There will be a very strong push to do this because BP has deep pockets and everyone affected will be looking for an immediate windfall and to “punish” BP, not using the resources from BP to make the Gulf truly sustainable.

  8. #8 JTW
    May 28, 2010

    Do consider that even if BP were willing to change the agents they’re using (which they may well be, I’ve no insider information on them) getting the stuff produced and delivered to the work site will take time, probably days at least (I don’t know where the nearest stockpiles are, if any, let alone the factories for it, but I guess they’re not sitting in a port on the Gulf in any quantity).

    So until they can take delivery, they have little choice but to do the next best thing, which is to keep using what they have on hand.

    ” think a big danger will be to blame all adverse effects in the Gulf on the BP spill, and so not do anything to mitigate any other pollution sources and not to prevent over fishing. There will be a very strong push to do this because BP has deep pockets and everyone affected will be looking for an immediate windfall and to “punish” BP, not using the resources from BP to make the Gulf truly sustainable. ”

    That is the greatest risk of all, and is already ongoing.
    I fear the US government may even try to use this disaster as a way to start nationalising the entire oil production industry. all in the name of “ensuring sustainability” and “it’s for the environment”.

    While no doubt a major problem, this is an accident that could have happened at any oil rig (there might have been conditions making this one more prone to it happening of course, I’m no oil rig engineer and even were I I’ve no access to construction drawings or procedures documenting this rig and its operation).
    Instead of fingerpointing and namecalling, let alone trying to ruin a company trying to mittigate the problems caused by an accident at one of its facilities (rather than trying to shove responsibility for it on some national government, as happens all too often), let’s all work together to not only solve the immediate problems (iow, cleanup and damage control) but to find out what happened not in order to sue anyone into bankruptcy but to ensure we figure out how to prevent (or make as unlikely as possible) this from happening again in the future without making oil extraction from undersea sources impossible or prohibitively expensive.

    Whether we like oil or not (and anyone driving a car, flying an aircraft, or using a computer by choice who say she doesn’t like oil is a hypocrite especially if they have a higher education) we need it for now as there are no viable alternatives without completely destroying our society and everything in it (no more fuels, electricity, plastics, etc. etc., we’d have to go back to an 18th century society or worse with a 21st century population density).

  9. #9 daedalus2u
    May 28, 2010

    A big problem in going forward and dealing with the aftermath of the spill is the traditional approach to problem solving in the US. Conservatives tend to want someone to blame and “solve” the problem by “punishing” those that have been “blamed”. “Blaming” and “punishing” doesn’t actually mitigate any problems and doesn’t facilitate finding solutions that do mitigate any problem. What “blaming” and “punishing” does do is take social power away from those that have been “blamed” and add social power to those that are doing the “punishing”. It is purely a social/political process, where the “leaders” accrue more political power by demonizing and punishing those they push to the bottom of the social hierarchy. This is what “tough on crime” is meant to accomplish, more political power for the politicians who are “tough on crime”, not less crime. If you want less crime, you have to work on the root causes of crime before that crime happens, not by punishing afterward.

    This is the fundamental problem of top-down power structures, power comes only by virtue of being higher in the social power structure, not from being correct. People are only at the bottom of the power structure by being forced there, that is the whole point of “blaming” and “punishing”.

    The conservatives are put in a bind when one of their traditional supporters is clearly at fault and should be “blamed” and “punished” according to their core philosophy. In this case BP is clearly at fault and should be liable for what ever it takes to clean up the spill. But conservatives are blocking efforts in congress to raise the legal liability limits for oil spills. Why? Because large and rich companies are the traditional allies of conservatives and putting rich companies at the bottom of the social hierarchy puts conservatives at the bottom of that hierarchy along with them. That is why conservatives are extremely reluctant to prosecute anyone in power in their social hierarchy.

    This is why the conservatives are trying to “blame” the spill on Obama. What role did Obama have in it? Nothing, but conservatives need someone “to blame”, and so they round up the usual suspects, liberals, environmentalists, immigrants, terrorists, brown people, the poor, anyone who is not like them. Any sort of “problem” is simply another vehicle for furthering their prior agenda.

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