30 April 2010

another reason for alternate energy

Photo Courtesy: www.euronews.net

There are many many reasons why we should wean ourselves off of petroleum and advocate for alternate energy sources. One of the reasons has been all over the news. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill might be worse than the Exxon Valdez spill nearly twenty years ago. NOAA has concluded that oil is leaking from the rig at the rate of 5,000 barrels or 200,000 gallons a day. The Gulf of Mexico is a key area for the seafood industry and one of the world's richest fisheries and it could be badly affected, perhaps for years to come.

Oil spills are devastating to the environment. Oil once spilled onto the ocean forms a thick layer called the slick, which depending on the weather can split or get thinned out further to become the sheen. An oil spill far off the coast can be carried to the coastline due to wave action and can therefore affect coastal marine life. Coastal spills, unless cleaned up will stay around until it is broken down by weather or decomposed by bacteria - this takes a very long time. The gooey black tar-like substance coats everything it comes to contact with. On the surface of water, it is not only toxic but also cuts of oxygen supply to the waters below.

Coastlines and estuaries act as important nesting grounds, marine nurseries and oil spills in these areas prove devastating to birds, animals, juvenile fish, larvae and reefs. Microscopic diatoms and plankton are most severely affected and so are organisms like mussels, clams, crabs, other arthropods and burrowing animals. Birds and marine mammals when coated with oil can die by ingesting the oil trying to clean themselves or due to the toxic chemicals present in the oil. The effects of a spill this size might damage the ecosystem for years to come according to some biologists.

Burning the oil to clear it from the water faster which is what might be done will release more pollutants and GHGs into the atmosphere. Oil spills, volcanoes, earthquakes, tornadoes, forest fires - all man-made and natural disasters are no more localized events of catastrophe. Harm to a part is harm to the whole.

BP PLC the company responsible for the spill has stated that it will "take help from anyone". What happens to the people who depend on the Gulf for their livelihood, the ecosystem and the fishing industry is anybody's guess...

Every a****** who ever chanted 'Drill baby drill' should have to report to the Gulf coast today for cleanup duty - Bill Maher


Ramesh said...

Every energy source has its own risks, unfortunately, and accidents do cause a lot of damage. But what is the alternative - more safety, more care, for sure, but you can't eliminate accidents.

My argument for alternate energy is both on environmental grounds and on the fact that petroleum reserves will run out. Coal is polluting - even "clean coal" . So we are talking hydel, nuclear, wind and solar as the only real alternatives. But each of them has their own band of objectors - every hydel project is objected to. Nuclear (the source I support) has little public support. Solar and wind suffer from nimbyism. Everybody supports them, but in others' backyards.

As always in life, its a trade off. Science must clearly establish the least harmful of the alternatives and then we must implement and stop arguing.

What do you think ?

Akhila Vijayaraghavan said...

I'm not in support of any one source of energy to be the sole power source of any country, leave alone the world. I think we need to work out a balance between renewable and non-renewable sources of power.

Having said that, we are running out of petroleum and coal and these are the two most polluting forms of energy. Unfortunately they are also the forms of power most commonly employed not just in the developed world but also in the emerging economies.

What is required is to look at energy from a life-cycle perspective from extraction, purification, use and disposal to figure out the best sources. We need to find ways to reduce our dependence on non-renewable sources and invest more in other sources of power that are less harmful both for environment and human health.