Oil Pollution: Toxic to Our Planet

Discussion about oil pollution and how it is toxic to our planet, includes facts and figures on oil spills, the effect on animal and plant life and automobile pollution.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
May/June 1971
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Oil pollution is a deadly force ruining the health of this planet.
Photo by Fotolia/Vibe Images
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Oil Pollution: Toxic to Our Planet

During 1969, two hundred thirty-four ships carrying cargoes of oil crashed into one another, dashed themselves upon reefs, or otherwise did themselves in.

During 1966 — the last year for which such figures are available to us — the waters of the U.S. had 2,000 oil spills of one kind or another.

Things have advanced to the point where off the coast of Labrador alone, some 350,000 birds a year become sufficiently covered with oil that they A) cannot fly, or B) because some natural buoyancy has been interfered with, cannot float, or C) because their food supply is similarly coated, cannot eat without being poisoned.

The experience throughout the world has been that at least 90% of all birds so afflicted by oil die, no matter what attempts are made to save them.

World-wide, several million birds are killed by oil every year. So are seals, otters, fish and billions of undersea organisms that they feed on. And the number is growing.

Until recently the death of "subhuman" creatures was not considered worthy of comment. But from an ecological point of view, oil on birds' wings is a crime against evolution [oil is not a thing a species has time to adapt to, like colder weather] and is no less an outrage than smog in human lungs.

There is also some human self-interest involved here. If we destroy enough of the oceans, we may do ourselves in. Everything works together. W. C. Fields once put it this way: "If there ani't no chickens, Harry, there ain't no eggs."

It is worth noting therefore, that seven oil companies are about to begin a project which will produce, eventually, a variety of oil disasters which will make the Santa Barbara and San Francisco spills seem like the puddles between the wheels of your car.

Here are the details:

I. Hot Oil Through the Tundra. 

Because the new Environmental Policy Act requires it to do so, the Department of the Interior recently reported on the environmental hazards of a proposed 789 mile hot-oil pipeline from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, across our largest remaining wilderness area, to Valdez, Alaska, a seaport.

The report shows that the pipeline would disturb wilderness and countless species of wildlife in hundreds of ways (see box below) but we would like to provide you with a few highlights:

1) Each mile of the new pipeline will contain 500,000 gallons of oil, traveling 7 miles an hour, at a temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit — 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Every half mile of pipe, therefore, will contain an amount of oil equal to that spilled at Santa Barbara. Only 12 shut-off stations are planned along the 789 mile route — 60 miles apart — so a break in the line most stringent conditions."

6) The oil will get put into ocean-going tankers at Valdez which, in addition to being ferocious earthquake country, is also one of the stormiest harbors in the world. The tankers themselves will be 15 times the size of those that caused the San Francisco disaster; much larger, for example, and with a greater volume capacity than the Bank of America building. (See chart in the Image Gallery.)

Rest assured, if oil is pumped out at Prudhoe Bay, and then shipped down the west coast we will, eventually, have an oil spill leading to the greatest kill of living things in history.

The chart gives you the relative sizes of presently in-use tankers such as the Oregon Standard (which recently crashed in San Francisco Bay) and the Torrey Canyon which crashed off England in 1967. Please note that the Oregon Standard is only one-fifteenth the size (in carrying capacity) of the ships which would bring oil down the coast from Valdez, Alaska, to San Francisco, and a sixtieth the size of a ship being proposed by the English. Most of the ships will carry oil cargoes of a far greater volume than the Bank of America Building could hold. And in case you think something about their being bigger makes them safer, consider this: If the captain of one of those 250,000 tonners from Alaska sees trouble ahead while going full speed, it will take him a half hour to stop the thing!

II. More Cars, More Roads,More Planes, More SSTs, More Plastic Baggies, More Power Plants, More Smog, More Noise,
More "National Security."

Having listed some dire results of building the pipeline, the Department of the Interior, in what must be the greatest flight of the mind since Jules Verne, then concluded that work on the line should proceed "promptly."

Its reasons for supporting it had nothing to do with the environment — which is what the report was supposed to be about. It all came down to this: The pipeline is terrible environmentally but we've got to have it anyway, for "security" and "growth." So goes the story.

But we would like to pose a question. If national security requires a sure supply of oil in case of emergency, does it seem to you that the clever thing is to rush and

Please join us, to help impress the powers that be that there are priorities that come before oil: life in its various forms; a world for our children that is pleasanter than our own, not worse; a chance for possibilities greater than material wealth to flourish.


Nightletters

$1.80 for the following messages:

For Washington, D.C.

and

2) The Hon. John Saylor
House Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C.

URGE STRONG LEADERSHIP TOPPING ALASKA PIPELINE. CONGRESS SHOULD DECIDE QUESTION ONLY AFTER ALTERNATIVES FULLY STUDIED.

DEAR SECRETARY MORTON:
AS FIRST ACT IN OFFICE URGENTLY REQUEST YOU REJECT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT FOR THE TRANS ALASKA PIPELINE AS INADEQUATE AND SHODDY. STATEMENT DOES NOT FULLY AND SERIOUSLY CONSIDER ALTERNATIVES (AS REQUIRED BY THE NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT) NOR DOES IT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT MASSIVE OIL POLLUTION PROBLEMS RESULTING FROM TANKER OPERATIONS OUT OF VALDEZ. INTERIOR SHOULD NOT FOR PRESUMED SHORT TERM NATIONAL GROWTH SACRIFICE THE SAFETY AND PROTECTION OF THE NATIONAL ENVIRONMENT. SUGGEST YOU NOT SADDLE YOUR ADMINISTRATION WITH INFERIOR AND HASTY WORK BUT TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO EXERCISE YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT.

Send to:
4) The Hon. John A. Volpe
Secretary of Transportation
400 7th St. S.W.
Washington, D.C.

DEAR SECRETARY VOLPE:
URGE YOU GET YOUR DEPARTMENT TO INVESTIGATE RAILROAD TRANSPORTATION AS A SERIOUS ALTERNATIVE FOR REMOVING OIL FROM ALASKA'S NORTH SLOPE. UNDER STAND ONLY ONE ROUTE WAS CONSIDERED IN INTERIOR DEPARTMENT'S ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT, AND THAT ECONOMIC PROJECTIONS WERE MADE ON THE BASIS OF SHIPPING OIL FROM OKLAHOMA TO CHICAGO, NOT PRUDHOE BAY TO A SERIES OF ALTERNATIVE DESTINATIONS. FOUR FLIMSY PARAGRAPHS IN A 260 PAGE REPORT IS NOT ADEQUATE TO DISCUSS RAILROAD TRANSPORTATION — WHICH COULD PROVIDE A SAFE, STEADY, AND SLOWER RATE OF REMOVAL.


Oil From the Arctic

A number of highlights of the likely damage from oil spills, and the pipeline itself, are listed in section above. Here are a few more: Near the point of drilling, tens of thousands of ducks, swans, geese, gulls and toils nest and feed. All of them would be susceptible to decimation from coastal oil spills. Similarly endangered would be large numbers of polar bears, narwhales, bowhead whales, and seals. 200 miles of feeder lines, plus camps. roads, drill rigs. etc, could also destroy the traditional migration routes of the caribou herds. And the pipeline itself will interfere with the habits of grizzlies, wolves, wolverines, foxes, owls and falcons, and endanger those species.

As the hot oil proceeds through the pipe, it will cross 5 major rivers and 350 streams including the Yukon River. which drains 330.000 square miles of Alaska and Canada. Oil in these streams will kill large numbers of fish and wildlife: a major spill could pollute vast parts of central Alaska and its coastal waters, a vital fishery for the world.

The gravel for construction — enough to cover San Francisco 19 inches deep — will come from formerly pristine streams — altering the spawning areas of char, grayling and trout.

The supertankers (see chart in the Image Gallery) which manage to get in and out of earthquake-prime, stormy Valdez will have to navigate windy, fog-bound Prince William Sound, down the coast of Canada and through a rock-bound strait to Puget Sound — or get further down the coast to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Any oil spilled along the way could, because of currents. pollute most of the west coast of Canada and the United States; a total distance of nearly 3,000 miles. Oil spilled in Puget Sound itself — where natural flushing action is slow — would stay there for years.

Eventually the oil gets through to market where it finds its way to your neighborhood gas station providing you the opportunity to have more and more of what the automobile has already provided.


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