A good portion of my largely misspent youth was misspent on Alabama’s Redneck Riviera — more euphemistically called Gulf Shores by tourism and real estate traders.
Like most folks with cultural ties to the Gulf Coast, I’m appalled by British Petroleum’s oil spill debacle in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m mad about it, but not quite sure at who or what to address my anger.
In my past experience with unbridled fury I’ve found the government an easy and worthy target — so here goes.
If there is a glimmer of a bright side to this environmental disaster — and it will surely be a disaster before all is said and done — it’s that agriculture had nothing to do with it. And, even the Washington, D.C. crowd of environmentalists, many of whom guard the Chesapeake Bay as if it were there backyard swimming pool, have been forced out of their comfort zone — of bashing agriculture — to the marshes and bayous of southeast Louisiana. As in the Katrina disaster Washington, D.C. bureaucrats and irate Southern folk sometimes have a little difficulty seeing eye-to-eye on things.
I’m not opposed to environmentalists — I’ve said too many times farmers are the original stewards of the environment. I am opposed to self-appointed environmentalists who go about their business of conjuring up environmental regulations that stifle agricultural productivity and profitability and have little positive impact on the environment.
Likewise, I’m not opposed to keeping the Chesapeake Bay as pristine as possible. Unfortunately, farmers may be regulated into paying a high price to clean up a mess they had little or nothing to do with as part of the Chesapeake Bay Initiative.
The cost to farmers of keeping the Chesapeake Bay pristine will likely be shared by agriculture nationwide. Federal regulators — the ones who set the guidelines for what farmers can and can’t do from an environmental perspective — can and do use the Bay as a guiding light for making federal regulations that affect all farmers.
To demonstrate how back-asswards some of the Chesapeake Bay guidelines can be, I defer to a farmer friend of mine who owns a small family farm on the Pawmunky River — a tributary that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.
I asked my friend — lets call him Boogie — how the Chesapeake Bay Initiative might affect farmers on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula. Boogie had a few choice words for the whole project then told the story of two biologists who came to his farm to monitor the impact of wildlife on pollution of the Chesapeake Bay.
They didn’t go to the river, they checked for deer in a lake near the river. Somehow they determined that two deer a day entered the lake and from that they concluded that wildlife have no impact on the pollution of the river and its part of the Chesapeake Bay. Had they moved a couple hundred yards and waited a couple of hours, they would have actually been on the river and would have seen dozens of deer in or near the river — not to mention a million or so blackbirds that roost in trees along the river — all those have a definite impact on water quality, Boogie contends.
I hope there is little correlation between our government’s ability to monitor wildlife’s impact on the Chesapeake Bay and our seeming futility at regulating off-shore oil wells, preventing environmentally debilitating oil spills, nor cleaning up spills that do occur.
Not knowing quite who to blame for the BP fiasco, I called my cousin Jay. He is an oceanographic engineer — and a Texas A&M graduate. All the Aggie jokes aside — he really can spell oceanographic — Jay runs a highly successful and in-demand oil industry consulting company in Houston.
I asked him why BP didn’t just call in some of the old hell fighters and have them simply ‘blow out the candle’. “Auburn mentality he laughed, if you can’t fix it, kick it.”
Comparing the technical difficulty of putting out an oil rig fire on dry land to stopping a high volume oil leak from a drill site a few hundred feet short of a mile deep is like the difference between me taking off in my Cessna, flying around Houston, landing and driving home — that’s the dry land oil fire. By comparison, what BP is trying to do would be like me taking off in my Cessna, flying it to the moon, filling my pockets with moon rocks, and flying back to Houston and driving home.
We found out with the Mobile-Exxon oil spill in Alaska that once oil is in the water, there is little that can be done to prevent serious environmental problems. Oil and water simply don’t mix — we learned that in 10th grade chemistry.
From the start — from the time the oil rig exploded, the singular effort should have been to stop the leak. Now, not only do we not know how much oil has spilled into the Gulf, we don’t know for sure how much spills every day. We know how much BP says they are capturing, but we have no way of monitoring containment efforts.
We do know that walking along the beach from the Pink Pony — one of those misspent youth sites — to the pier at the State Park at Gulf Shores isn’t possible any more — not without a respirator and some means of traversing a mile or so of black, oily, slippery sand. The tar balls I’m told come and go along the beaches at Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Perdido Key — the slimy sheen on the water and the oily smell do not.
It’s easy to point the finger of blame — surely there are plenty of targets at which to point. It’s hard enough to know what has been done in terms of cleaning up the mess and even harder to know what to do next.
I’m a long way from being an engineer of any kind, but I suspect any real progress in cleaning up the Emerald Coast — loosely from Panama City Beach, Fla., to Dolphin Island, Ala. — will come from local folks. These are the real environmentalists — the ones who don’t mind sweating in a Louisiana swamp or along a once-pristine Alabama beach to solve an environmental problem they had no hand in creating.