[Marxism] Corporate media downplays Gulf oil spill
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 30 07:26:17 MDT 2010
(Despite their madness on other issues, the World Socialist
Website is unsurpassed on this kind of reporting.)
Corporate media downplays Gulf oil spill
By Josué Olmos
30 July 2010
In the wake of the temporary capping of the Deepwater Horizon
well, the American media has begin to shift its focus from the
catastrophe in the Gulf, while a number of significant
commentaries have begun to downplay its impact and scope,
essentially raising the question: what was all the fuss about?
These articles are part of a concerted effort by BP, the Obama
administration, and the corporate media to minimize the effects of
the spill, purge the event from the consciousness of the American
people, and return to business as usual.
On April 20, an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11
workers. Significant evidence has come forth that the lives of the
workers on board and the safety of the rig equipment were
disregarded by BP for the sake of maximizing profits. Subsequent
to the explosion on April 20, over 200 million gallons of oil
gushed out of the broken well one mile below the surface of the
water. The oil has spread throughout the Gulf, affecting the
physical and economic wellbeing of workers in at least six states.
By all accounts, this was the most devastating environmental
disaster in American history.
These are the facts that recent efforts by the corporate media
wish to minimize.
In a recent Washington Post article, David A. Fahrenthold and
Leslie Tamura pose the question whether Tony Hayward’s initial
optimism was correct, after all. Fahrenthold and Tamura use rough
estimations and optimistic words from National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chief Jane Lubchenco to present
a somewhat rosy picture.
They begin by explaining that of the 220 million gallons spilled
into the Gulf, an estimated 50 million have been siphoned, burned
or skimmed. This leaves, they say, nearly 170 million gallons
unaccounted for. Lubchenco’s analysis is that the Gulf ecosystem
has proved resilient, and that much of the remaining oil has
dissolved into microscopic, dilute droplets deep in the water. The
best-case scenario, say the authors, is that “oil-munching
microbes” can take care of the remaining oil.
To clarify the picture, WSWS spoke with Dr. George Crozier, the
executive director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in southern
Alabama and asked him to discuss some of the issues.
Crozier responded to these types of analyses by saying: “I think
that the tone that we’re seeing in the press—that it’s gone off
the surface, it’s over, there’s no more threat to the beaches and
marshes and estuaries—that’s mainly true. The problem is that it
leaves a large amount of oil unaccounted for and still present.
But I don’t think we know what that volume is with much accuracy
at this point.”
When asked how the “oil-munching microbes” may factor into the
process of ridding the Gulf of poisonous material, Crozier
described the long-term effects that Fahrenthold and Tamura fail
to bring into the analysis.
“At least some of the remaining amount happens to be polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). The reason there is a concern for the
PAHs is because they bioaccumulatable,” Crozier explained. “It
doesn’t matter how small the concentration may be that NOAA is
reporting. The low concentration levels mean nothing because they
can be magnified in the human food chains. Something is going to
eat the bacteria [that consume the PAHs], and then something is
going to eat the animal that ate those bacteria—that is what
bioaccumulation means. The biological food chain can take a very
small, non-toxic, concentration and turn it into something that is
a human problem. The food chain can bring it back up to a
concentration that does become a problem.”
Also representative of the recent efforts by the media is Michael
Grunwald’s Time article “The BP Spill: Has the Damage Been
Exaggerated?” Grunwald admits that “it’s important to acknowledge
that the long-term potential danger is simply unknowable for an
underwater event that took place three months ago,” his entire
article is designed to do just the opposite—to provide evidence to
support the dubious claim that the spill in the Gulf “does not
seem to be inflicting severe environmental damage.”
Grunwald begins the article by citing Rush Limbaugh, the
ultraconservative radio commentator who maintains that hype over
“the leak” in the Gulf is some type of environmentalist plot. He
suggests that “Rush has a point,” that the environment in the Gulf
is not taking as severe a beating as some thought it might.
Grunwald raises two main pieces of evidence to support his
argument. The first, that fewer birds and mammals are dying
compared to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. And the second, that the
spill’s effects on the marshes of Louisiana are miniscule in
comparison to the regular annual loss of wetlands that are lost in
Asked about this claim, George Crozier emphasized the possible
long-term effects, he also discussed the importance of the
short-term effects, which still may not be precisely measurable.
“The smaller compounds that we’ve talked about—the benzene,
toluene—that kills stuff and causes cancer in humans,” he told the
WSWS. “What is happening with that stuff also is that it is
killing eggs and fish where the concentrations are high enough to
do it. [One of the short-term issues] will be the impact in the
fisheries where the susceptible life stages were affected by the
spill. This impact will be seen in the coming months and 1-2 year
impacts in fishing harvests.”
Grunwald combines his “evidence” with statements like those from
Marine scientist Ivor Van Heerden, who said: “there’s just no data
to suggest this is an environmental disaster. I have no interest
in making BP look good—I think they lied about the spill—but we’re
not seeing catastrophic impacts.”
It is true that there is, as yet, little scientific data to
suggest this is an environmental disaster. That is in part because
BP has made efforts to recruit scientists as consultants,
stipulating that all data they accumulate must remain private and
proprietary. Many independent scientists have been denied access
to the affected parts of the Gulf, and those who did get access
have not been able to draw extensive conclusions from the samples
they have taken already.
The WSWS asked Crozier about the problems scientists have had in
obtaining data to analyze and understand the problems in the Gulf.
“Part of the problem that the community is having right now is the
tortured process is going through to vet the data that they’re
collecting and giving to them, and this has delayed some of the
federal decisions being made—but they will be debated in the
peer-reviewed literature.” He said.
“The complaints that have been so rampant in the past weeks is as
it becomes clear that BP is filling their notebooks with their
data and their position, and the government is filling their
notebook with their data and their position, the academics who
don’t care about going to court are caught in the middle because
nobody wants to share their data.
“It’s hard enough to get data now because of technical
differences, but the difficulties if we don’t have an opportunity
to do that it keeps us in the position of not being able to answer
the questions even a third of the way into the process—the only
thing I can give you is an unending list of uncertainties and
things we don’t know. The harder it is to get the data, the harder
it is for the academic community to be forthcoming.”
As the comments of Crozier show, commentaries like those appearing
in Time and the Washington Post drop any pretense of making an
objective investigation. They are following the lead of BP and the
Obama administration, which hope they can combine the capping of
the well with the capping of any serious examination of what
devastation the oil spill has already caused, and may still cause.
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