Bobby Jindal’s “barrier islands” Are Washing Away

From Climate Progress

Last month I warned that Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) was demagoguing a sand barrier ’solution’ that probably won’t help, will take many months, use up valuable resources, vanish in the first storm — and many scientists think will make things worse. As one Coastal geologist explained: “I have yet to speak to a scientist who thinks the project will be effective.”

So I know you will be shocked, shocked that Jindal’s “obvious” response to the BP oil disaster is already failing. Brad Johnson has the story:

Since the beginning of May, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) has pushed a crash effort to build artificial “barrier islands” from dredged sand to prevent BP’s toxic oil from reaching Louisiana’s fragile coastline. He and other Louisiana politicians excoriated the federal government for waiting until June 3 to authorize the $360 million project, even though “categorically, across the board, every coastal scientistquestioned its wisdom. In mid-May, Jindal justified the barrier-island construction by saying it was the “obvious” thing to do:

It makes so much sense. It’s so obvious. We gotta do it.

We know it works, we have seen it work, but if they need to see it work, they need to do that quickly,” argued Jindal. On May 27, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) attacked President Barack Obama, calling his administration’s caution “absolutely outrageous“:

Here the president doesn’t seem to have a clue. His decision on the emergency dredging barrier island plan is a thinly veiled ‘no.’ Approving two percent of the request and kicking the rest months down the road is outrageous, absolutely outrageous.

In fact, the first artificial island project is already showing serious signs of erosion, with heavy equipment sinking into the ocean. Photographs released by Louisiana scientist Leonard Bahr and the US Army Corps of Engineers show that the artificial island E-4, intended to reach an 18-mile length, is struggling to survive at 1,100 feet:

Nitrogen Runoff Creates Dead Zone: Add Oil – More Dead

“While the BP oil spill has been labeled the worst environmental catastrophe in recent U.S. history, a biofuel is contributing to a Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” the size of New Jersey that scientists say could be every bit as harmful to the gulf.

Each year, nitrogen used to fertilize corn, about a third of which is made into ethanol, leaches from Midwest croplands into the Mississippi River and out into the gulf, where the fertilizer feeds giant algae blooms. As the algae dies, it settles to the ocean floor and decays, consuming oxygen and suffocating marine life.

Known as hypoxia, the oxygen depletion kills shrimp, crabs, worms and anything else that cannot escape. The dead zone has doubled since the 1980s and is expected this year to grow as large as 8,500 square miles and hug the Gulf Coast from Alabama to Texas.

As to which is worse, the oil spill or the hypoxia, “it’s a really tough call,” said Nathaniel Ostrom, a zoologist at Michigan State University. “There’s no real answer to that question.”

Some scientists fear the oil spill will worsen the dead zone, because when oil decomposes, it also consumes oxygen. New government estimates on Thursday indicated that the BP oil spill had gushed as much as 141 million gallons since an oil-rig explosion and well blowout on April 20 that killed 11 workers.

Corn is biggest culprit

Ahab and the Gulf

Anyone who’s been around me these last weeks will testify to my mini obsession with what Moby Dick has to tell us about the Great Gulf Oil Vomiting of 2010. I’ve been listening daily to an audible telling of the great novel, all 136 chapters, available at Lit2Go from the University of South Florida (via iTunes.) In fact, the Pequod and all its crew but Ishmael, went to the bottom as I pulled into the garage this Friday. I sat of course, for a while, feeling the pressure of the watery grave. I’ve come to think that listening to the story, with all its erudite meanderings into amateur science, has been roping it into my dendrites much tighter than my former readings did. Perhaps it’s my age, or the year of this “reading.” But I get it now, more than I ever have.

They key point of comparison between the whale hunters and the oil hunters is that both, in their time, were the energy industry. Though wood and peat burning certainly provided warmth around the world, and coal had been mined since the time of the Romans there was nothing to compare to whale oil, especially sperm whale oil which didn’t smell as bad as right whale oil, for illumination, or for lubrication. As the whale population declined from voracious hunting, expeditions of 3 years and more as described in Moby Dick became the norm. Let’s call it far off-shore whaling. The essence of whaling was to pierce the animal with several sharp instruments — harpoons and lances– and bring the carcass alongside and extract the oil — from the blubber by refining it, and the precious spermacetti directly from the head. Call it sweet and heavy crude. The story of Moby Dick is, in a thimble full, the story of obsession, man’s drive to dominate, indeed revenge itself, against nature, and nature’s revenge against the world — the world of course being the Pequod with sailors and harpooners from every corner of earth.

It all seems impossibly predictive of what we see happening in the Gulf. Greed is more the driver than revenge, but domination of nature is still the mental set of those who have gone further and further off shore, to drive their deep drills into the earth to extract the precious stuff.

I’d been turning over a mid-sized essay to contemplate all this when lo and behold a pretty decent one appeared as the lead story in this Sunday’s NY Times, Week in Review. Randy Kennedy starts off:

“A quenchless thirst for whale oil, then petroleum, pushed man ever farther and deeper. And with great hubris, great risk.”

and continues:

A specially outfitted ship ventures into deep ocean waters in search of oil, increasingly difficult to find. Lines of authority aboard the ship become tangled. Ambition outstrips ability. The unpredictable forces of nature rear up, and death and destruction follow in their wake. “Some fell flat on their faces,” an eyewitness reported of the stricken crew. “Through the breach, they heard the waters pour.”

The words could well have been spoken by a survivor of the doomed oil rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April, killing 11 men and leading to the largest oil spill in United States history. But they come instead, of course, from that wordy, wayward Manhattanite we know as Ishmael, whose own doomed vessel, the whaler Pequod, sailed only through the pages of “Moby-Dick.”

“Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.” — “Moby-Dick”

So I’m glad to recommend to you Kennedy’s piece. More judicious and less emotive than I might have been, nevertheless it’s worth remembering that man’s war against nature has been recognized for quite some while as a war that will not be won by the puny two legged creature, no matter how long his lances.