Revolution #209, August 15, 2010

"Damage Control" and the Real Damage Done

Gulf Oil Disaster Is NOT Over

The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster is now officially the largest marine oil spill in world history. The damage that has been done is incalculable, and damage is still going on. But the government, which has lied about this crisis all along, is trying to tell people, "Move along, it's all over here."

A huge pool of oil and dispersants has covered large swaths of the Gulf, most under the water's surface. For more than 100 days, this toxic mess has been the environment in which thousands of marine species have had to try to survive. Six hundred miles of Gulf coastline have been hit, the grasses that hold the wetlands together have been bathed in oil and oil has been buried in sediments (materials found at the bottom of a body of water). Oil has spread across estuaries—the nurseries of life in the Gulf. Thousands of people have been poisoned, children sickened with burning eyes, rashes, nausea, and headaches.

BP, the government, and the mainstream media are saying that BP's cap on the well will hold and that the oil gusher may finally be stopped. Should we believe them? All of them have consistently lied about, minimized, and covered up this catastrophe at every stage. They have prevented independent observers from access to data and prevented independent investigations to verifying BP claims. But even if the well turns out to be finally capped, what has already unfolded is the largest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history. Waters rich with life are now polluted by at least 172 million gallons of oil and 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants. 

Yet now, we are told by the federal government and the mainstream media that magically this immense toxic mass of oil has largely disappeared, and what's left poses little ongoing threat. That case is made in an August 4 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). A New York Times headline read, "U.S. Finds Most Oil From Spill Poses Little Additional Risk."

White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs claimed, "I think it's fairly safe to say that because of the environmental effects of Mother Nature, the warm waters of the Gulf and the federal response, that many of the doomsday scenarios that were talked about and repeated a lot have not and will not come to fruition."

BP has already scaled back clean-up efforts, even as on August 1 Louisiana authorities cited dozens of reports of oil as sheen, tar balls, and thick goo spread across five parishes (counties) in the Mississippi Delta region. 

The truth is that the gush of oil may be stopped, but this catastrophe is far from over. The line that there is little threat is an outrageous lie. Disastrous consequences—to people's health, to their livelihood and ability to even continue to live in the places they love, to the beautiful and rich ecosystems of the Gulf—are only beginning to be felt and will continue for years to come.

Those claiming we can now "put all this behind us" are representatives of the same government and the same capitalist system that allowed BP to drill 5,000 feet deep in the ocean without any plan for how to stop a gusher like this at this depth. They signed off on drilling without environmental review. They are the same ones that lied about the amount of oil pouring out. They attacked scientists who revealed huge plumes of oil in the Gulf. They speak for a government, and a whole system, that failed to respond in the way needed to this catastrophe.

Now they want everyone to "just move on" from a catastrophe which revealed the capitalist system's utter inability to protect the people and the ecosystems. Now they are attempting to walk away and cover up their crime. People must insist that the full scope of the damage be uncovered. This must be fought for, and people must demand that the needs of people in the Gulf and the ecosystems be met, that this disaster be addressed and stopped. (See box on "100 Days of Outrage")

Why It's Not Over: Deep Oceans Poisoned by Dispersed Oil

NOAA's report says 74% of the oil that poured from the gusher has been captured, burned, dispersed, evaporated, or "dissolved," and 26% is left in the Gulf.

Even if NOAA's figures were to be accepted, over 100 million gallons (of a total of 206 million) remains in the Gulf in one form or another. This is no case for "the threat is behind us." About half of this 100 million gallons is oil dispersed in the water, which NOAA claims is essentially no threat. This is untrue. A body of scientific evidence shows chemically dispersed oil is actually more toxic than oil alone (see below). And the toxic components of "naturally dispersed oil" are still present, just mixed into the water.

Scientist Samantha Joye, who first reported the underwater plumes of oil, has said that "the fact that this oil is ‘invisible' makes it no less of a danger to the Gulf's fragile ecosystems. Quite the contrary, the danger is real and … is much more difficult to quantify, track, and assess."

Many scientists have criticized the report for shaky methodology. Others said it was just putting a spin on things to make the Gulf and federal clean-up look as good as possible.

NOAA's report is being used to say there is little remaining threat, but the report says nothing about the effect of all this oil over months and months on all the life present in the Gulf! In fact, no government agency has yet to really study this. What is known is that this mix of oil with dispersants is very toxic, especially to the larvae and young life forms present in Gulf waters this spring and summer. This is an indictment of the total failure by this government, which concentrates the power of this capitalist system, to safeguard the environment.

BP and the government sprayed unprecedented amounts of Corexit dispersants to break up the oil on the surface and at the wellhead. Claiming dispersants were "less toxic than oil," they used the chemical to push the oil under the surface where the political cost of contamination would be less than oil hitting large portions of the coastline. What the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called a "trade-off" has meant sacrificing marine life.

A Scientist Consensus Statement on dispersants (available online at shows that Corexit dispersants mixed with oil "pose grave health risks to marine life and human health, and threaten critical niches in the Gulf food web that may never recover." Dispersants allow the toxic compounds of oil to pass more easily into the cells and tissues of organisms. Dispersed oil can damage "every system in the body," according to the statement. Human health effects include burning skin, difficulty breathing, headaches, heart palpitations, dizziness, confusion, and nausea. Chemically dispersed oil can cause serious and long-term impacts—lung, liver, and kidney damage; immune system suppression; and neurological damage in children and developing fetuses.

The EPA, the government agency charged with protecting health, has instead assisted BP in poisoning the Gulf and its people.

Even some scientists within EPA raised questions to supervisors about dispersants, but their concerns were disregarded. Despite saying BP should restrict dispersant use to "rare cases" a Congressional committee revealed that the Coast Guard approved requests from BP to spray dispersants 74 times in 54 days.

Another danger present in the Gulf is the potential for creating larger areas of dead zones, areas where marine life is killed off from lack of oxygen in the water. Joye's team, and other scientific teams, discovered oxygen levels within the oil plumes were 30-50% below normal. Microbes in the water feed on oil and methane gas (which also poured from the well), and use up oxygen as they feed on the oil. If oxygen drops too far, dead zones can be created. Dead zones already appear every summer in the Gulf and the oil disaster could make this worse.

Why It's Not Over: Ongoing Damage to Food Webs and Human Health

Gulf food webs face real danger. Thousands of animals have been found dead—likely only a portion of those that died. Die-offs of fish and pyrosomes—a food organism that endangered sea turtles and others feed on—have been discovered. Scientists have found that droplets of oil have been incorporated into the shells of young crabs, a food mainstay for many organisms.

The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, which poured 16 times less oil into the water than the Gulf spill, caused severe long-term damage to the ecosystems, much of which showed up years later. The spill had multi-leveled impacts. Toxic components entered the food web. Species like sea ducks and marine mammals suffered high mortality for years because they ate creatures contaminated by hidden oil and brought up buried oil when they dug for prey.

The government claim that similar or worse impacts won't happen in the Gulf is a cover-up. The Gulf catastrophe has devastated people's livelihoods—thousands of fishermen out of work, businesses shut down. Many fishermen involved in cleaning the oil face being thrown out of work again as BP scales back the clean-up. Whole communities of many diverse cultures have lived in the bayous of south Louisiana for generations or more. Now many are confronting whether they will be forced to leave, even if their communities will continue to exist, because the rich life in the marshes they depend on is being poisoned.

Many workers on the spill have gotten sick. Susan Shaw, a toxicologist with the Marine Environmental Research Institute, told CNN that shrimpers exposed to dispersed oil have reported heart palpitations, muscle spasms, and rectal bleeding. In a survey of 1,200 Gulf residents living near the coastline by a public health group from Columbia University, more than one-third said their children had problems with rashes and breathing, or are more nervous, fearful, or sad since the catastrophe.

* * *

Oil is an essential factor in the global capitalist economy, and control over that oil is critical to the dominant position of the U.S. empire. That—not the needs of humanity or the planet—has framed everything about this system's response to the Gulf oil catastrophe. Limited studies are done that blandly report results without any conclusions as to what real threats are or in a way that people can understand them. They downplay impacts on ecosystems and human health. They spin numbers to make things look good. Many things are simply not studied at all. The logic here is not to get at the truth, but to cover it up, and to get back to business as usual. Again, capitalist logic: the logic of the "bottom line."

This capitalist system has turned the Gulf into a laboratory filled with thousands of oil rigs. This is the Gulf's fundamental "worth" and "meaning" to this system. The environment is seen as simply a means to an end, its resources to be plundered and poured into production for profit. There is no long-term planning about the future dangers to the ecosystems. Everything is sacrificed to the need to get back to business as usual, especially to drilling for oil—which is a lifeblood of this system. This is, indeed, a system utterly unfit to be the planet's caretaker.

Now the skids are being greased to quickly overturn Obama's short-term and partial moratorium on deep water drilling and to "drill baby drill." Obama's "truth" commission is not even expected to wait until the moratorium ends in November to allow drilling to resume. Obama has made clear offshore drilling remains central to U.S. energy policy. Obama claims "the best science and the needs of people of the Gulf" is guiding the government response, but this is a hollow lie.

This is a huge crime in active motion. It must be opposed and resisted. Studies need to be done, people's health monitored and protected, people's livelihoods and communities need to be saved, and the damage to ecosystems addressed.

From the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster:

"100 Days of Outrage" Protests

July 30 marked the 100th day of the Gulf oil catastrophe. The Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster had issued a call for nationwide protest actions for July 30, "100 Days of Outrage Demand 100 Actions." Actions were organized on an emergency basis in just over a week. What follows is the beginning of the Committee’s report on those actions. (The full report, and other news and information, can be found at


On July 30, in the face of the headlines blaring across the country, "The well is capped and the crisis is over!," about 500 people, in some 21 different cities and towns across the U.S. (as well as Venezuela and Costa Rica), and from different walks of life and ages, took part in the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster’s "100 Days of Outrage Demand 100 Actions."

Some highlights: a UC Berkeley protest against BP’s role in the Gulf and its partnership with the University, which got wide local coverage and broke into the national media; a half-dozen actions or contributions from Louisiana—ground zero in the crisis; a 265-stanza 100 Days of Outrage collective poem; letters from children to those affected; bike rides dedicated to the 100 days; photos and quotes from people sent to the Committee’s website for posting; an hour-long radio program in Hawaii dedicated to the catastrophe…

A variety of people quickly stepped up to organize protests, events, or contributions across the country, sometimes creating new and unorthodox ways for people who don’t usually "protest" to contribute. Reports from the day give a sense of how widespread is the deeply felt anger and heartbreak over the devastation to the environment, which we have just began to tap into, and the disgust people feel—principally at BP, but also at the government.

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