Posted by: shipbright | July 18, 2010

They just don’t mix…oil and water around the globe

We all know this…They just don’t mix.

Whether we’re talking about people, “they’re like oil and water”, or we’re talking about salt or freshwater and oil…they just don’t mix.

Like you I have sat and watched helplessly as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has spewed forth the manifestation of our addiction to oil.  It’s frightening to watch and to see it affect us in such a foul, toxic, and heartbreaking fashion.  It’s taken me this long to write about it as I wanted to view this from a larger perspective and not one that has me embroiled in the anger, frustration and sadness that is unfolding before us.  I have felt so helpless.

We’ve done this to ourselves and I am less interested in blame and liability, for now, than in just getting the problem solved.  Getting the cap on recently was a major step forward BUT the cleanup of the hundreds of millions of gallons is something that will be multi-generational. Exxon Valdez has taught us that and the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound of beloved Alaska is a pinprick compared to the Gulf of Mexico.

Recently I was asked by a company I work for to do an analysis on the oil spill and field data needs.  It was a good opportunity to highlight the difference between an anthropocentric vs. biocentric perspective.  An anthropocentric [human centered] perspective would be focused on beaches where we humans encounter the oil and on the charismatic megafauna [beautiful animals/birds/fish] that we as humans feel our heartstrings pulled on .

A biocentric [ecosystem centered] perspective would be focused on what is best for nature including the marine life ecosystems, the marshes and bayous, and the systems that are key to the chain of life in the Gulf.  We need to work on all these things but the marshes and bayous and tidewaters are the “nurseries” of the marine and freshwater ecosystems that are the foundation of the whole Gulf ecosystem.  As much as we humans can we need to really think about these challenges from a biocentric viewpoint because we humans are part a larger ecosystem that extends and effects us well beyond our current knowledge.

Oil intruding into freshwater systems complicates and threatens the health of fish, fowl, wildlife and humans….we are ALL at risk of this.

So this disaster in the Gulf and its impact on our economy, our health, and our environment must fortunately be an isolated challenge to us all to recover from.  Unfortunately it is not.

Huh? Not another gloom and doom environmentalist trying to scare everyone that the End of Days is nigh!  Quick, don your Rapture helmets and hope God didn’t catch you that one time….

It’s not a doom and gloom scenario.  It is an honest, straight forward, and pragmatic look at the worlds’ freshwater issues that the BP oil disaster has highlighted because this isn’t the only oil and water related major problem in the world.  What should bother us about these other issues is that they happen far away and usually to people that are poor…and we here in the relative affluence of the West remain blissfully ignorant of them.

As loyal readers of Fresh[water] Ideas for a Thirsty Planet you’ve heard me quote Laurens van der Post…these events are like the wind, they come from a far off place but we feel them here

Circle of Blue does a wonderful job on reporting these international issues and this article here is something you should read and pass on.

Here are some highlights:


In the delta of Nigeria for the last 50 years between 380 to 550 MILLION gallons of oil spill EACH YEAR.

These spills are a result of their incessant civil war where no one seems to be “the good guy” pipelines are sabotaged and inattention to maintenance of the oil pipelines allows corrosion to eat through the pipes and spill oil.  This is the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez disaster every year for 50 years.

The people of the Delta are being poisoned by the oil that is part of their daily drinking water, bathing and hygiene.  It’s in their food.  It’s all around them and yet the forces of greed battle on to control the black gold while everyone suffers.

The oil contaminates the surrounding ocean where it is scattered to the courses of currents and whims of nature’s storms.  We are all effected by this.  Shell and Chevron are the two major multinationals extracting the oil and navigating, and some say unduly influencing and meddling in, the politics.  There is much to read on this subject and I encourage you to dive in.


Chevron is accused of turning approximately 2,000 square miles-about the size or Rhode Island-into a “death zone” where cancer rates have soared.  17 million gallons of raw crude oil has been discharged into the rainforest.  Lax health laws and poor, if any enforcement, of health regulations has allowed the indigenous people to take the brunt of pollution.


In remote regions of Siberian , away from prying eyes, oil drilling still suffers from undercapitalized projects that allow pipelines to corrode away and cause massive oil spills of over 30 million gallons.  As Circle of Blue reported, “The international community paid scant attention to the region’s ongoing spills until heavy rainfall in October of 1994 knocked out an earthen dam that had contained 20 percent of the region’s motherlode of contaminated water and crude. Oil raced through tributaries of the salmon-rich Pechora River, which drains into the Arctic Ocean.

Oil contaminating migrating salmon fisheries, as well as effecting the waters of the Arctic Ocean, effect all of us.

It is critical to be an informed global citizen who has a deeper understanding of these issues and the interconnectedness of these issues to our own lives and how we affect them.  It is critical to our mutual survival.  The world is growing more populated and the environmental stresses are growing and will continue to grow.  It is up to each one of us to contribute to solving these issues in small ways that collectively become a powerful force as they translate into pressures on the “markets” of the world.

Oil and water do not mix.

This is an issue of international and national security.  We need to migrate to sustainable energy as quickly as we can,  recognizing the imperative to do so, and in an orderly transition.  Oil will continue to play a mix in our energy needs but the more of us that realize that oil is both a blessing and a curse and that renewables are better for us in the long run is critical to the collective political will that translates into, at least in our representative democracy, the election of public leaders who heed the electorates demand.

Oil is poison to freshwater and we don’t have a lot of freshwater on this planet.  What we have we need to steward and care for.  I wish the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster was an isolated incident but the more you open your eyes to what is happening around the globe the more the pattern comes into focus.   Don’t take the easy route and fall prey to the those that offer soothing salves of “it’s not a big deal” or “the waters will be pristine again”.

Look at Prince William Sound in Alaska where a tiny fraction of oil was spilled by Exxon Valdez compared to the Gulf…20+ years later there is still oil just under the surface on the beaches. []

Lastly, the more we spend time blaming others the less energy we spend on fixing the problems and moving forward with constructive solutions.  We are all to blame in some form or fashion and clearly some shoulder more culpability than others but let’s learn from our mistakes, right the wrongs, but keep our focus back to where it needs to be… that is the evolution of man in its finest form and this can be our finest hour.


  1. Hi! Great post. I was wondering if I could use a couple of the pictures from your site with the hands on the world and under it for some poems that I am writing? I sure would appreciate it – the fit perfectly for what I was wanting. Please let me know. I won’t publish them with my poems if you don’t want me to. Blessings, Teresa

  2. thank you for your insight.

  3. […] the rest of this great post here Comments (0)    Posted in Oil Spill   […]

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