News & Politics

Of Tarballs and Permission Passes: The BP Oil Disaster Rages Forward

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BP’s underwater oil geyser that’s spewing the black bile of the earth into the ocean at a few thousand gallons a day is still working! In fact, it’s working so well that byproducts have started to wash up on the shores of Key West: like those beautiful treasures of the ocean, sea shells, except…

They’re tar balls. Balls of tar that have banded together to form a clump of awful grossness. This is not what Margaritaville is supposed to look like.

The Coast Guard says if you see any of these things, you should probably give them a call at (800) 424-8802. Also, this:

If these sticky lumps of oil prove to be from this latest spill, it would probably mean the oil has been in the lower levels of the loop current for a while, said Bill Hogarth, dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science. Hogarth also thinks it is unlikely the tar balls came from the spill.

Right, you read that correctly. Someone thinks these aren’t even from the BP spill. So what happens when those bad boys start washing up? Right. Don’t touch it. In fact, BP would rather have you not touch anything. Did you know: American inspectors have to ask BP permission to survey the disaster? It’s true! In fact, BP isn’t using the most precise methodology to survey what’s coming out of the ground (because that might become proportional to the money they have to spend cleaning it up). Via the New York Times, they’re even blocking efforts to let that happen:

..For decades, specialists have used a technique that is almost tailor-made for the problem. With undersea gear that resembles the ultrasound machines in medical offices, they measure the flow rate from hot-water vents on the ocean floor. Scientists said that such equipment could be tuned to allow for accurate measurement of oil and gas flowing from the well. Richard Camilli and Andy Bowen, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, who have routinely made such measurements, spoke extensively to BP last week, Mr. Bowen said. They were poised to fly to the gulf to conduct volume measurements.

But they were contacted late in the week and told not to come, at around the time BP decided to lower a large metal container to try to capture the leak. That maneuver failed. They have not been invited again.

BP did not respond Thursday to a question about why Dr. Camilli and Mr. Bowen were told to stand down. Speaking more broadly about the company’s policy on measuring the leak, a spokesman, David H. Nicholas, said in an e-mail message that “the estimated rate of flow would not affect either the direction or scale of our response, which is the largest in history.”

Right, of course it wouldn’t affect the response!It would effect the reperations BP’s going to have to eventually make on this thing, which right now, they’re avoiding even thinking about (or letting anyone else think about) while the black blood has yet to dry.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]