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J. KARL MILLER: Planet managing Gulf oil spill just fine

Wednesday, September 1, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

As BP winds down capping the oil leak and the finger-pointing intensifies to determine "who shot John" in assigning blame for the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, a new and highly interesting fact has come to light. The Food and Drug Administration's and the state of Louisiana's tests on shrimp and fish from the affected area have found but traces of toxic substances, posing no hazard for human consumption.

Tests have shown negligible amounts of cancer-linked polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, confirming scientific conclusions that the cancer-causing carbons in oil are quickly eliminated through metabolizing in fin fish and some crustaceans. Accordingly, while fish and shrimp have been cleared for consumption in the Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida-controlled fishing areas; oysters and blue crabs, which retain contaminants longer, remain off-limits for now.

Although this news is a welcome omen for the immediate future of the Gulf Coast economy, there are doubters among fishermen and shrimpers, as well as in the scientific and environmental communities. A University of Georgia study estimates that more than 70 percent of the oil remains unrecovered, and University of South Florida researchers suggest that the use of dispersants may have caused the oil to sink to the sea floor only to potentially resurface.

Nevertheless, the erstwhile huge oil slicks have virtually disappeared from the Gulf and, contrary to other reporting, not much is appearing in the marshes and on the beaches. According to Edward Bouwer, professor of environmental engineering at Johns Hopkins University, and Jeffrey Short, of conservation group Oceana, as much as 40 percent of the oil may have evaporated, particularly the most toxic components because of their volatility.

Among the more positive findings regarding the disappearance of the oil are in the studies by researchers from the University of California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They were the first to measure the positive effects of undersea bacteria feeding on the oil spill. These microscopic oil-eating bacteria have been long known to inhabit the Gulf, evolving from bacteria that feed on natural oil seeps.

The initial fear that this massive oil spill would overwhelm the bacteria's capacity to remove the petroleum hydrocarbons has been allayed by the Berkeley researchers' discovery that the bacteria thrive and multiply in the colder depths of the Gulf. They also found a high oxygen supply in the Gulf's waters, which confirmed the studies of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The multiplication of the oil-consuming bacteria and the dual findings of higher-than-expected oxygen levels (deoxygenation is harmful to plant and animal life) lends credence to government assessments that 75 percent of the oil dispersed, evaporated, burned or was skimmed. Of course, while the jury is still out on the cleanup, residual hazards, economic impact and future of drilling in the Gulf, prospects are much brighter than were anticipated in April.

Other than studying general science and geology, growing up raising crops and livestock, and experiencing the mysteries of life and health for 75 years, I claim little in the way of scientific credentials. Nonetheless, Mother Earth, as our planet is known to the "greens," has demonstrated remarkable properties of restoration and resilience in healing itself from the wounds inflicted by nature. Geologically, the planet has endured multiple ice ages and subsequent warming periods, as well as earthquakes, floods, fires, volcanic eruptions and violent winds without missing a beat.

The natural ability of microscopic life forms to eradicate oil spills and seepage indicates the Earth's restorative powers, much like the human body's capacity to heal and rejuvenate itself following illness or injury. The planet's history of metamorphosis and transformation over millions of years offers little to the theory that man can destroy or materially affect the balance of nature. The effects of centuries of war, increased population, mining, drilling and deforestation have been minimized by man's and Earth's adaptation.

In 1968, at the urging of David Brower, executive director of the Sierra Club, Paul Ehrlich wrote "The Population Bomb," in which he claimed "the battle to feed all of humanity is over" and predicted that by the 1980s millions would starve to death. Somehow, man and Earth adapted. That is also true in the number of species which have become extinct over centuries. While one may lament the passing of the passenger pigeon, dodo and sea cow, had there been an Endangered Species Act enforced in the Cenozoic period, we might be up to our ears in saber-toothed tigers today.

Admittedly, mankind must exercise judgment in recovering Earth's resources and conserve or replenish its inventory. However, the fears promoted by global warming enthusiasts, the anti-coal and anti-oil crowd, Earth First-ers and others relying on emotion rather than science must be balanced with reality. Earth's resources are abundant, relatively cheap and here for a purpose. The day we cease in the name of eco-psycho-babble to harvest the fruits provided us by Mother Earth is the day we begin to cease to exist.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.


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Comments

Ellis Smith September 1, 2010 | 8:33 a.m.

Oil seeps from ocean floors occur naturally. The seeps emit only a fraction of the oil emitted by the oil spill, but the oil appears to dissipate. It's been speculated that organic organisms may consume the oil.

That would seem to make sense: if there have been natural oil seeps for millennia, some "critters" would develop the habit of feeding on the oil. Nature is sometimes smarter than petroleum engineers or environmentalists.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush September 1, 2010 | 10:56 a.m.

"However, the fears promoted by global warming enthusiasts, the anti-coal and anti-oil crowd, Earth First-ers and others relying on emotion rather than science must be balanced with reality."
Here's more reality for you - 11 people died aboard the Deepwater Horizon and 17 were listed as injured, BP used prison labor clean beaches - while thousands are still unemployed in the region, and the spill was capped thanks to a drawing from an anonymous plumber since BP didn't know what it was doing.

Finding majesty in the Earth is just fine - but staring into the brilliance of the sun blinds one to the world still within reach.

Like the world of asthma in kids, health risks from coal ash, and the plastic garbage island - here's some photos.
http://www.google.com/images?expIds=1725...

And here's my sources.
http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2009/04/2...
http://sfbayview.com/2010/bp-hires-priso...
http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/201...
http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2009/jan/29...

"Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation.” William Lloyd Garrison

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 2, 2010 | 8:54 a.m.

"The day we cease in the name of eco-psycho-babble to harvest the fruits provided us by Mother Earth is the day we begin to cease to exist."

We just have to be sure we're just harvesting the fruits, and not tearing the whole tree down.

DK

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 2, 2010 | 10:35 a.m.

Fully agree with your last paragraph, Mark.

Best example might be picking coffee "fruits." If you aren't careful, you can significantly damage next year's crop.

High quality beans go to make upscale market coffees; lower quality beans are sent to Folgers and Nescafe to make instant coffee.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop September 3, 2010 | 5:58 a.m.

I did some calculations from Krakatoa. I took various sources of world population and estimates of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere by human activity since 1900. Came out from 1900 to 2007, emissions from man totalled 1.027 billion tons. Krakatoa ejected by 24 billion tons. Ergo, human emissions into the atmostphere over a 107 year period have been less than 4.3% of what Krakatoa shoved out in one single event. Now I’m just going to guess if we input the total ejected particulate matter from the major worldwide eruptions since 1900 (http://www.innvista.com/science/earth/ge...), I’d bet that human activity has resulted in less than 1 tenth of one percent of all matter that has gone into the atmosphere that you wouldn’t necessarily want in your lungs, but which vegetation around the world depends on.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 3, 2010 | 6:33 a.m.

"Earth First! We'll Mine The Other Planets Later."

[Bumper sticker, seen on vehicles at one University of Missouri System campus. Scandalous!]

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 3, 2010 | 10:17 a.m.

Don Milsop wrote:

"Came out from 1900 to 2007, emissions from man totalled 1.027 billion tons. Krakatoa ejected by 24 billion tons. Ergo, human emissions into the atmostphere over a 107 year period have been less than 4.3% of what Krakatoa shoved out in one single event."

I suspect you've made a triple order of magnitude error. Check your calculations. I think you meant "1,027 billion tons", not "1.027 billion tons". This means that the CO2 emissions from Krakatoa, one of the most violent volcanic eruptions in recorded history, are a tiny fraction of what humans have put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.

Krakatoa was much more significant because of its global dimming effect. Material thrown into the stratosphere blocked solar radiation and lowered world temperatures by 3-4 degrees Fahrenheit. But it was not a significant source of greenhouse gases.

DK

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush September 19, 2010 | 3:42 p.m.

Wishful thinking and bad math - what a combo.

Here's some scholarship on the issue - from people that actually study.
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspa...

(Report Comment)

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