> Ian Wren*
> *Baykeeper in Action: from the SF Bay to the Gulf of Mexico*
> Ian Wren is Staff Scientist/Investigator at San Francisco
> a San Francisco based nonprofit founded in 1989 that works to
> reverse the environmental degradation of the past and promote
> new strategies and policies to protect the water quality of the
> San Francisco Bay. Its mission is to protect and enhance the
> quality of the San Francisco Bay for the benefit of its ecosystems
> and human communities (visit www.baykeeper.org
> Prior to joining Baykeeper, Ian worked as a Habitat Restoration
> Specialist in Southern California and a Hydrologist in London, UK,
> and has worked with a range of public, private and non-profit
> organizations in California and Europe on issues surrounding urban
> water quality, coastal diffuse pollution, endangered species, and
> wetland restoration.
> Ian, who supports Baykeeper's litigation and advocacy efforts
> through scientific review of issues relevant to Bay ecology and
> chemical status, will describe Baykeepers mission and what he
> learned from a recent visit to the oil impacted areas of the
> Gulf of Mexico. He will also bring us up to date on the status of
> Gulf oil spill response efforts.
Ian began by explaining a
little about Baykeeper. They are a nonprofit, part of a river keeper
network, Waterkeeper Alliance, organized by Robert Kennedy, Jr. They
work with regulators to ensure that good water quality outcomes are
achieved. They also patrol the bay looking for pollution dumping.
Ian recently spent three weeks in the Gulf helping with
response to the Deepwater Horizon spill. He showed us booms that
weren't doing much, and stockings full of hair to absorb oil. He said
those kinds of things probably work with much smaller spills than this
one. He explained that the Cosco Busan spill we'd had just a few years
ago was about a half hours worth of spill from the Deepwater Horizon.
The Santa Barbara spill that had galvanized California back in the '70s
was only two days worth of output from the current gusher under the
Gulf of Mexico. California's entire offshore oil production works
out to about what is spewing from the Deepwater Horizon's blown well.
That one spill is a huge event.
Ian had a lot to say about the dispersants being used. So far
BP has injected 1.8 million gallons of the stuff into the oil coming
out of the well head. This has the effect of making it hover in the
water column instead of rising to the surface as Alaskan oil did after
the Valdez spill. What does reach the surface becomes these
incredibly sticky droplets that do wildlife no favors. This is the
first time such dispersants are being used on a big oil spill.
Dispersants are preventing the pictures of black oiled
beaches that BP didn't want to see, but it has other effects we are
still figuring out. So far known dead include 1800 seabirds, 444 sea
turtles, and at least 53 dolphins and other aquatic mammals. The number
of fish killed is unknown. More study will be needed to see if this
strategy is really helping. Clearly the oil plume is a low oxygen
environment compared to normal sea water.
Oil seeps into the Gulf of Mexico have been an ongoing part
of the ecosystem for so long that the water column has microbes built
into it that eat oil. Ian thinks that maybe some fertilizing might help
them. Since the Mississippi River already dumps a lot of nitrogen
fertilizers from farm runoff into the area that is probably not needed.
People are looking into ways to add phosphorous and oxygen.
There was a lot of active Q&A participation:
Kevin Costner's gadget is a centrifuge that separates oil and
water. BP has bought 30 of the things, and we don't yet know how useful
The fishing may be back in five years but it's not clear the
fishermen will be. Most fishing operations were delicately balanced on
big debt service requirements, and five years of no fishing will likely
The Deepwater Horizon found this gusher about fifty miles
Skimmers would work a lot better if the oil wasn't having
detergent added to it.
If you want to help out, please send donations to saveourgulf.org.