Archive for November, 2014

Offshore oil spills contaminate fresh water, too

November 12, 2014

The NWNL website has added a video trailer for “The Great Invisible”, a new documentary on Louisiana Coast damages caused by oil and gas extraction. NWNL research and our Lower Mississippi River Delta expedition in Sept 2014 have focused on this subject, and we highly recommend this documentary of personal stories that highlight the nexus of Mississippi Delta ecosystem functions and the oil and gas industry. Below is expanded commentary on this issue.

Oil rig in Atchafalaya Bay, Louisiana

Oil rig in Atchafalaya Bay, Louisiana

“The Great Invisible”, a new documentary by filmmaker Margaret Brown reviewed recently by the New York Times, explores the aftermath of the world’s largest oil spill. The blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, operated by BP, in April of 2010 resulted in the discharge of millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of 87 days, contaminating hundreds of miles of beaches. Extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and to the fishing and tourism industries resulted not only from the oil but also from adverse effects of the cleanup activities. Chemicals from the oil and the dispersant used during cleanup also led to a public health crisis along the Gulf Coast.

The use of offshore oil wells goes back to the 1890s. The first submerged oil wells in salt water were drilled in the Santa Barbara Channel around 1896. After the first federal offshore lease sale was held in 1954 for oil production rights off the coast of Louisiana, the Gulf Coast became the heart of the U.S. petrochemical industry. However, the safety of offshore drilling came into question with the Santa Barbara Oil Spill in 1969. It was the largest oil spill in United States waters at the time, with consequences similar to those in the Gulf four decades later. It was one of the most dramatic and visible events that led to the the regulatory and legislative framework of the environmental movement.

Spills in the ocean wash ashore and affect the quality of nutrient rich river estuaries where salt water meets fresh water and support spawning grounds and nurseries of our greatest fisheries. In the BP spill, the combination of oil, water, dispersant, weathering and natural organic matter has created an emulsion thicker than peanut butter.

An oil industry executive claims “Regulations block innovation, so government needs to get out of the way of business,” yet to date BP has cleaned up less than 1/3 of the spilled oil, according to the film.

Meanwhile, BP has been in Federal District Court in New Orleans along with Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and Halliburton, the contractor responsible for an unstable cement slurry used in the well. In September BP was found to be the primary culprit and that it had acted with “conscious disregard of known risks.” A trial scheduled to begin in January will determine penalties under the Clean Water Act.

Forty-five years after the Santa Barbara oil spill and four years after the Deepwater Horizon, Congress has yet to pass any safety legislation for the petroleum industry.

What will it take to prevent such an accident happening again? More regulation? A change in oil industry culture? Whatever it takes, we hope that “The Great Invisible” will help that conversation along.

— RW

Platform C oil rig in the Barbara Channel

Platform C oil rig in the Barbara Channel

NANPA News* highlights NWNL and Alison M. Jones

November 7, 2014

*North American Nature Photography Association newsletter.

Jones_080204_ET_8207I’ve always enjoyed water. I grew up on a small rural stream with frogs, moss, trout, rocks and fog. Years later, copiloting over sub-Sahara Africa, I saw clearly that where there was no water, there was no life. Thus, No Water No Life ® (NWNL) became the title of my quest to combine the powers of photography, science and stakeholder information to raise awareness of the vulnerability of our fresh water resources.

The following are my daily mantras:

African proverb: “You think of water when the well is dry.”

Leonardo da Vinci: “Water is the driver of nature.”

The Dalai Lama: “The first medicine on this planet was water.”

Words are powerful.
But, if one photograph has the power of 1,000 words, then a photograph that is captioned must be worth 100,000 words.

NANPA award recipient James Balog said, “Science gave me a new lens through which to see the world… a more holistic view and appreciation of the natural environment.” I too relish having science and NWNL goals attached to my lenses, endowing my images with greater impact.

In 2 years the Isle de Jean-Charles, inspiration for the Academy Award-winnning “Beasts of the Southern Wild” will probably be lost to sea-level rise and subsidence.

In 2 years the Isle de Jean-Charles, inspiration for the Academy Award-winnning “Beasts of the Southern Wild” will probably be lost to sea-level rise and subsidence.

In eight years NWNL has completed 22 expeditions to six case-study watersheds in Africa (Nile, Omo and Mara river basins) and North America (Columbia, Mississippi and Raritan river basins). Resulting imagery, research and blogs are on our website (http://www.nowater-nolife.org) — and those of International Rivers, American Rivers and others. NWNL documentation is further shared via social media, lectures, exhibits, and in books and magazine articles.

We’ve focused on glaciers and tarns (in the Columbia, Mississippi and Nile basins), lakes (including Kenya’s Lake Turkana, now imperiled by Ethiopian hydro-dams on the Omo River), meadows and Texas playas, wetlands (half of these naturally-filtered nurseries are already gone), tributaries, forests (disappearing from Earth at a rate of 36 football fields per minute), riparian corridors, flyways, estuaries and delta lands (disappearing from the Mississippi Delta at the rate of one football field per hour).

Jones_130124_K_3308

Subsistence fishermen on Kenya’s remote Lake Turkana are learning that intensive water extractions by Ethiopian commercial agriculture will ruin their lake and fisheries.

NWNL has interviewed hundreds of scientists, stewards and stakeholders. These commentaries, which we call “Voices of the River,” discuss pollution, climate change, fracking, population growth in Africa, dams and levees, water usage by agriculture and industry, and tropic cascades of predators—anything impacting the health of watersheds. NWNL has recorded solutions from Canadian glaciologists, Maasai wilderness guides, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, historians, farmers and others on how to protect riverine corridors and ecosystems and ensure freshwater availability and quality.

Jones_070804_NJ_7826The overall NWNL goal is to transcend boundaries, bridge divisions and differences, suggest the shape of the future, capture imagination, stir consciences and create change. At NANPA’s 2002 Jacksonville Summit, art critic Vicki Goldberg described the power of photography to meet these objectives: “A photograph is like a lobbyist who sways a legislator.” Apollo 17’s “Blue Marble,” probably the most widely distributed image in human history, is a great example of imagery awakening a global awareness of our unique watery bonds. The connection with Earth’s beauty, which that image evokes, mirrors a comment by Terry Tempest Williams at the October 2014 observance of the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act: “We have no choice but to stand for what we love… We the people must walk with the river.”

NWNL will be collating and publishing many more images, videos and essays in online and print media. Upcoming NWNL photoessays will assess and compare water issues in developed and developing worlds, rural and urban regions, upstream and downstream. NWNL will also continue its newly initiated “Spotlights” on critical water issues such as the devastating drought in California.

NWNL appreciates the voluntary contributions of student interns’ research and guest photographers on our expeditions. We also thank photographers working in our case-study watersheds who share their images and findings with NWNL.

NWNL fiscal support comes from individuals, family foundations, grants and generous in-kind donations. To support NWNL in raising awareness of the vulnerability of our freshwater resources, checks to No Water No Life can be sent to Alison Jones, director of No Water No Life, 330 East 79th Street, NY, NY 10075 or via PayPal offered on the NWNL website http://nowater-nolife.org/supportUs/index.html).

Alison M. Jones is a conservation photographer who has documented ecosystems and resource management for more than 25 years in Africa and the Americas. She is the director and lead photographer at NWNL.

Story and photographs by Alison M. Jones.
Published by the North American Nature Photography Association.

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