So. How's the oil situation in Gulf of Mexico?

How’s the fishing? Ecology irreversibly damaged? No sign of trouble? What’s the dope?

New Orleans metro resident here. Unfortunately, I only have anecdotes to offer.

The aftereffects (or lack thereof) of the Gulf oil spill still get some play on local talk radio. One of the shows that talks about it the most is local food critic Tom Fitzmorris’s daily drive-time radio call-in program.

Fitzmorris and his many guests (normally chefs & proprietors of local restaurants, festival organizers, and so forth) completely hand-wave away any and all concerns about Gulf seafood–and by extension, the overall collective “health” of the Gulf of Mexico’s biota. On several occasions, Fitzmorris has had one or more oceanographers (at least one is local and works out of LSU) come on the show and authoritatively pronounce that the Gulf and all the seafood in it are 100% A-OK and anyone who thinks otherwise is dealing in bad science and scare tactics. In short: they say that (a) the oil did practically no damage, (b) the Corexit did no damage, © no further damage of any kind is forthcoming, and (d) all Gulf seafood is totally safe.

Well OK. While I personally tend to side with the “Gulf is OK” side, I do recognize that this is the kind of issue about which people will tend to believe what they want to believe. If the s#!7-for-sure unbiased truth is out there, I can’t even fathom how one could get their hands on it.

As for point (d) above, the fishing on Louisiana’s SE coast is back and has been for quite some time. The oyster beds have been back for quite a while as well. Availability and price of seafood is now and has been for several months back to pre-spill levels. For us local seafood consumers, we can’t tell that any damage from the oil spill is affecting anything anymore.

I spoke too soon about the oysters … Fitzmorris himself wrote the following on February 6 of this year:

Another article from Fitzmorris’s site – his Year in Dining 2010 from last December. I’m sorry to be quoting the same guy over and over, and I realize that his articles are just op-ed pieces. But he is one of the opinion-leaders in the New Orleans-area about the oil spill’s after-effects.

The line bolded above is a mantra you’ll hear repeated over and over and over locally.

Here’s a lengthy article from the April 4th, 2011 edition of the Louisiana Weekly about a forum and seminar held last week in New Orleans. The tone at that seminar was decidedly negative when compared to the usual New Orleans-media party line. Here’s the main thrust of the Louisiana Weekly article:

So … what to make of that? Again, depends upon what you want to believe.

I guess those wackos from BP and other petroleum engineers that scoffed at the media during the oil spill were right. Hydrocarbons are a naturally occurring phenomena.

“She added ‘this means some of the oil is showing up in rain and being carried inland by things like tornadoes.’”

I haven’t read that article-the signal to noise ratio in Louisiana Weekly is too low for me-but if that is the quality of the reporting… Someone actually said that tornados transport measurable quantities of anything from the ocean to the shore? And someone actually wrote that down and published it? Obviously that person isn’t worth wasting a moment listening to.

I live and work just outside New Orleans. There are no long term impacts from the oil on land. Short term effects did occur. Even over 100 miles away from the well, there were two days when we thought we could smell the oil. Many people claimed to have been impacted, some businesses in MS and Alabama were hurt during the actual spill, but no damage to people otherwise. Lots of discussion and research on the the effects, but no impacts have been found. In fact, the only effect I have seen is an increase in resumes from people who had temporary jobs dealing with the spill and are looking to stay in the area.

Another anecdote:

Very generally, the more authoritative the source (e.g. government agencies), the more likely they are to give a message of “The Gulf is just fine”. At the moment, “doom and gloom” opinions are at the fringe. Some people will make a conscious decision NOT to accept good oil-spill-aftermath news from authority, however.

I think it’s telling that Inigo posted this OP about 20 hours ago, and there’s been little response so far. That’s a testament to the ultimate inscrutability of his question. If you’re the type to generally trust authoritative pronouncements about environmental questions, then it’s easy to find sources that will tell you the Gulf is pretty much OK and the oil spill ultimately didn’t do anything. However, if you think authority is inclined to cover up the bad oil-spill news, you can find (with more diffifulty) sources that will support the idea that the Gulf – and everything in it – is polluted and poisoned.

Fair enough. But evidence of the spill that would be observable by a regular dude, like me, sounds scant. I’m not hearing about massive (or even tiny) blobs of oil sludge gumming up the coastline, notable decrease in shrimp yields, etc. Now it may well be the case there are columns of goo below the surface, or even a good-sized puddle sitting on the sea floor. But the extent to which this is having a notable effect on marine life seems to be minimal to nonexistant. I was expecting a real mess with the hurricaine season, but…nothing. It’s one thing to say, “The seafood is tainted, you just can’t tell!” and quite another to photograph oil-slicked dolphins and empty shrimp boats with greasy nets.

My question came more from the eerie media silence. I haven’t heard anything about the Katrina aftermath, yet as I understand it that is because nothing has changed, not because everything is all better now. I’d also not heard anything about Prince William Sound until last year even though that area is far from recovered. I was wondering if this was the case with the Gulf of Mexico. No news =/= good news, necessarily.

Can’t speak for Prince William Sound, but as for the Katrina aftermath: while the recovery is still ongoing in a few pockets, the city of New Orleans is essentially back to business as usual (and has been for a few years now). But the things that are happening now are slow-moving and are not as “sexy” as the stories that came out in the few months after Katrina. The news cycle always moves on to the next thing.

Inigo(and anyone else reading) … I wanted to ask about something you wrote, but missed the Edit window. Apologies in advance for perhaps sounding condescending – I’m not sure how to couch this more diplomatically:

Do some people around the country really think “nothing has changed” in the New Orleans area after Katrina? That the same debris still lines the streets, that the same houses & buidlings remained flattened and in place, that no one has returned, etc? Granted, there’s still lots of recovery work ongoing (the low-hanging fruit has been handled, now we’re onto the politically-sensitive stuff), and such work will continue for a good decade more.

But New Orleans has been very much a fully-liveable city with all municipal services available** since at least spring of 2006. Recall that a not-much-scaled-back Mardi Gras went off without a hitch in February 2006.

**not necessarily in the most heavily-damaged areas.

So, besides 11 lost lives, the worst oil spill in history caused virtually no damage? Does this mean spills are relatively manageable these days?

Not quite. There definitely was some damage, and there’s likely to be at least some long term ecological impact.

We don’t know the extent of the potential longer term damage yet, but it seems that seafood, at least, is safe to eat and the beaches are clear.

It could be as mild as random tarballs showing up a bit more frequently or as serious some species of bottom feeding sea life being severely impacted by sludge coating the ocean floor (and then making its way up the food chain). As in Alaska, we’ll not know the full extent of the damage for years. Fortunately, it seems the worst doom and gloom predictions were way off the mark.

Also, remember that, considering the magnitude of the spill and some of less wise choices made in the cleanup, we lucked out in a lot of ways. Weather, in particular, was favorable through the whole ordeal. The wind patterns kept the oil more or less contained to a relatively small area and there wasn’t enough wave action to make the berms useless.

If the winds hadn’t held up as well as they did, it’s possible oil would have coated Florida beaches and made its way to the Caribbean or the main part of the Atlantic. Had a good sized hurricane passed through the area, we could have had more serious consequences on land. The fact that the water was warm also helped, since we did get some benefit from some natural biodegradation (something not really available for the Valdez disaster).

Basically, Mother Nature did us a huge favor. Maybe we’re better than 10 year ago at containing big spills, but I wouldn’t stake my life on it.

I’m just glad I get to enjoy the usual spring crawfish boils.

Considering what you know is the last you’ve heard…probably. I think the last 1st person account I heard was late 2008/early 2009 and told of considerable unaddressed debris/abandonment. Of course that news is a couple years old now, but it’s the last I heard. I don’t have illusions that the entire place is a ghost town by any means, but my impression is that it’s nowhere near 100%.

In addition to all the points you made, another luckout was simply the fact that it happened in such a large body of water as the Gulf of Mexico. As much oil as was coming out of the ocean floor … the Gulf is HUGE, and it would take an inconceivably staggering amount to truly and irreversibly ruin the water itself and the entire food chain within.

Hasn’t there been an unusual number of young dolphin deaths this year? I know there is no causative effect known, but I though it was a statistically significant number.

Yes, you’re correct. Here’s a CNN Intl article on this very topic, dated today.

The implication is that the unusual deaths began being recorded two months before the oil spill. Further:

There are many comments to this article, most of which are decrying the reluctance of the NOAA scientists to just come out and “admit the obvious” – that the oil spill killed all these dolphins. So again – it’s authority vs. the fringe.

I was just down on the Gulf Coast. Have friends who are boat captains and deep sea fisherman. Their anecdotal stories are consistent and universal in that the long-term ecological damage has yet to be determined. However, they all say fish catches are way down. There are massive areas where there is no living things in the Gulf. The dispersants were used to keep the oil off the beaches, but the oil is still there. The dispersants used only hide the true damage in that the oil is still there way down below the surface. They report massive fish kills, sea turtle kills, dolphin kills. The CNN story quoted today doesn’t even scratch the surface (pun intended).

At the same time, there is a one-year deadline/anniversary coming up in which to file claims. BP is buying off people to settle as fast as possible. With no real knowledge, and it cannot be known for years, the economic repercussions will also not be known for years.