The Gulf Oil Spill has gone from bad to worse. Since BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank on April 22, killing 11 workers, it has been spewing a torrent of oil into the Gulf of Mexico—roughly 70,000 barrels, or 3 million gallons, each day. A method known as “top kill,” the most recent attempt to siphon the spill, was deemed a failure, leaving BP and government officials scrambling for answers. Meanwhile, Gulf-area sailors and residents watch in horror as oil laps up on their shores, fouling marinas and devastating wildlife.
At this point, BP is no longer discussing a cap on the leak – it merely hopes to contain it. The best-case scenario involves a relief well implemented in August, but even if BP were to contain the leak today, Gulf residents, governmental agencies, fisherman, environmentalists and sailors face an oil-spill disaster larger than any in our history. The damage has surpassed that of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the end is nowhere in sight.
Among other things, the oil slick is now making its way into the Loop Current, a system that circulates warm water from the Caribbean, around the Gulf, down and around Florida and up the Eastern Seaboard. If oil enters the Current under the right conditions, it could mean an entire East Coast splashed with petroleum. Then there’s a possibility of a hurricane churning things up, an occurrence that NOAA says has a 40 percent chance of happening in the course of the upcoming hurricane season.
By the time BP attempted to implement the “top kill” solution, the situation was critical. Louisiana declared itself in a state of emergency as oil-soaked brown pelicans washed ashore and commercial fishing halted. Governor Bobby Jindal called on the federal government to pressure BP to find a solution. Since then, the President has formed a commission to investigate the explosion’s cause and to ensure that a disaster of this caliber never occurs again.
What does this calamity mean for thousands of sailors who keep their boats in these Gulf waters? It means a direct threat to the keystone of our lifestyle – the sea. It means tar balls washed up on docks and decks. It means a shock to a fragile ecosystem with which we sail in harmony. It means the boaters and sailors along the Gulf Coast will think twice before keeping their hulls in toxic water this summer. It means miles of oil booms lining the channels to and from coastal marinas while the charter and commercial fishing industries bite their nails. It means trouble.
What can be done? First and foremost, the pressure is on BP, the EPA and various state and federal governmental agencies to contain the leak. Already, BP has taken responsibility, and will honor any verifiable claim for damages caused by the spill. (If contaminated waters reach your boat, check out this listof helpful tips from Interlux and Awlgrip.) For sailors, we can volunteerwith shore cleanup, get behind organizations that protect the Gulf's water, stay educated about news in the Gulfand support other sailorslooking out for the sea.
We can also look at this tragedy as a wake-up call to reevaluate our energy sources. With 35,000 miles of oil pipeline stretching across the Gulf, a repeat explosion is a possibility.
Luckily, our sport is based on a sustainable source of energy. For centuries, sailors have utilized power from the wind and the sun, and advances in marine technology are making it increasingly easier to be green with electric engines, LED lighting and more.
We have yet to learn how this story ends, but one thing is for certain: "drill, baby, drill" just took on a whole new meaning for Gulf Coast sailors.