Friday, April 21, 2017

The oil-drenched sea in which the seed for a novel was planted

I was reading the news a few days ago (I must be a masochist) and I saw where the President invited American manufacturers to recommend ways the government could cut regulations and make it easier for companies to get their projects approved. As my eyes moved further down the news report in Washington Post, I saw this on the list of self-serving recommendations: BP wants to make it easier to drill for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico by reducing how often companies must renew their leases.

I gritted my teeth. I’m still gritting them, particularly since yesterday, April 20th, was the seventh anniversary of the devastating BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I remember that date as well as I remember the dates on which people dear to me died. A little melodramatic, you say? This picture may change your mind. That's a sea bird, barely alive when that picture was taken.

Photo: Huffington Post
Now imagine what was under the surface. Years of scientific observation of the Gulf following the spill have shown what that was. From a 2015 NBC report:

  • "Nearly five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a new report says that creatures like dolphins, sea turtles and fish still haven't fully recovered.
  • Bottle-nose dolphins were found dead on the Louisiana coast in 2014 at four times historic rates, according to "Five Years and Counting: Gulf Wildlife in the Aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster," released on Monday by the National Wildlife Federation.
  • Fish including mahi mahi and red snapper, coral colonies, and white and brown pelicans are still struggling. Around 32 percent of laughing gulls have died as a result of the oil spill, the National Wildlife Federation said.
  • Between 27,000 and 65,000 Kemp's ridley sea turtles died during the oil spill and that the number of nests discovered every year since has gone down."

And BP wants to continue drilling, drilling, drilling. Climate warming and the resulting acidification of the oceans because of increasingly high levels of carbon in the atmosphere aside, what guarantees do we have that there will never be more oil spills?

They say the seed for a book is often planted in a significant moment. The one I’m writing now was planted on April 20, 2010 with the event that rocked everyone who gives a damn about the health of our oceans. The seed didn’t germinate immediately. It was a while before it began to sprout and the story grew into two branches - one in 1802 and the other in 2010. Kate, the main character in the 2010 section, isn't anything like me. I'm a creative sort. Kate is a marine and atmospheric scientist, but she speaks for me here as she remembers her reaction to the BP Oil Spill:

"She had not been able to erase the images of the birds and sea turtles that looked as though they had been dipped in tar from her mind. The innocent victims of corruption, greed and the thirst for power. The men on that platform whose lives had been extinguished in a violent explosion of flame had been innocent victims too. Oh God, it was horrifying. It had brought her to tears. Soon those tears had been replaced by a numbing fury that had propelled her into inexhaustible action.

NOAA’s response had been quick. She’d dropped everything and volunteered to help. The Gulf now took precedence over everything else. What they found was bad. The dispersants hadn’t helped. They’d only added to the unholy mess that was a death warrant for thousands of marine species. The first that came to her mind was the dolphins, those gentle, friendly creatures with the same level of intelligence as humans."