Silverdale’s waterfront is seeing the effects of recent storms
in our area, as documented by Susan Digby, a geography instructor
at Olympic College.
High stormwater flows have washed litter, debris and dead salmon
into Sinclair and Dyes inlets, where currents and winds from the
south carry the materials to Silverdale’s beaches, including
Silverdale Waterfront Park and Old Mill Park.
“The north end of Dyes Inlet is like the end of a sock,” Susan
told me. “When we get rain and wind, everything piles up
Photos of all this debris — including parts of three docks —
were taken by Susan on Sunday, just two weeks after her students
cleaned up the beach entirely as part of an ongoing study that
counts and categorizes marine debris that collects there.
A phenomenal amount of trash winds up on our beaches, including
discarded food wrappers that people have carelessly discarded. Just
about anything that floats can wash into a stream or storm drain to
be carried into one of our local inlets. Some debris may be coming
from the nearby streets and parking lots in Silverdale, but some
could be coming all the way from Gorst, as suggested by
drogue studies (PDF 1.6 mb) conducted by the Navy.
As Susan points out, the debris includes lots of Styrofoam,
which can be ingested by birds and sea creatures, as well as baby
diapers and syringes, which are a reminder that disease organisms
are making their way into our local waters with uncertain effects
on the fish and shellfish we eat.
I plan to cover Susan Digby’s student research project in more
detail early next year, after 2012 data are compiled.
It seems there is finally some good news coming out of the Gulf
After 170 days, the leaking oil well — nearly a mile under water
— was finally plugged with mud. Officials say it means an end to
the long spill. As BP stated in a
“Pumping of heavy drilling mud into the well from vessels on the
surface began at 1500 CDT on August 3, 2010 and was stopped after
about eight hours of pumping. The well is now being monitored, per
the agreed procedure, to ensure it remains static. Further pumping
of mud may or may not be required depending on results observed
“A relief well remains the ultimate solution to kill and
permanently cement the well. The first relief well, which started
May 2, has set its final 9 7/8-inch casing. Operations on the
relief wells are suspended during static kill operations. Depending
upon weather conditions, mid-August is the current estimate of the
most likely date by which the first relief well will intercept the
Macondo well annulus, and kill and cement operations commence.”
If the spewing has indeed stopped for good, discussions about
the fate of the contamination and restoration of the ecosystem have
some real meaning. A report issued
this morning by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration starts to put the issue into perspective. Continue reading →
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking into materials
that can soak up oil during a major oil spill, as well regulations
governing the use of such equipment. The effort culminated in a
Sunday’s Kitsap Sun, which described the thousands of people
donating their hair to soak up oil, and
Tuesday’s story, which talks about potential uses of
Frankly, I learned far more about various materials than I could
fit into either story, so I’m filing away some information for
future reports and discussions.
I began looking into hair booms when I saw newspaper and
television reports about hair salons collecting cast-off hair.
Volunteers were stuffing the hair into the legs of panty hose to
create makeshift hair booms to soak up oil in the Gulf. It bothered
me that none of the reporters were asking whether the hair was
actually being used. Cleanup officials in the Gulf soon announced
that they would not use the hair, yet organizers remained
determined to carry out their plans.
I came to learn that these hair booms were more than a potential
clean-up tool; they were a symbol of concern and empathy being sent
from throughout the world.
Monday’s story focused on inventions using alternate materials
to clean up oil and the difficulty of getting new ideas put to use.
There are so many ideas that I couldn’t begin to explain them all
in a news story, so I focused on a couple of Washington
For some reason, many people are fascinated with the idea of
using hay to clean up oil. A demonstration on YouTube by a
couple of interesting characters (who also appeared on the Sean Hannity
Show) has reached 1.7 million hits. I guess people are
enthralled with the simplicity of using such a basic material as
grass — but lots of natural materials will soak up oil. The
questions are: How much oil can be captured per unit of material?
How well do the materials work in the environment? And how easily
can they be recovered after being soaked with oil? Other factors
include cost, availability, potential reuse , etc.
When I get a chance, I will make a list of the various kinds of
materials being promoted for the cleanup, including natural
materials treated with chemicals to improve their performance. The
list is long and varied. I’m convinced that it would be useful —
either now or later — to have a research group look at all the
factors and offer some observations, perhaps suggesting a “best
As the worst ecological disaster in U.S. history unfolds in the
Gulf of Mexico, emotions are boiling over along the Gulf Coast.
Sitting here in the Pacific Northwest, I am still dazed by the
realization that an oil well, nearly a mile under water, has gone
out of control, spewing millions of gallons of crude and creating
an underwater mess bigger than what we see on the surface.
I cannot fathom that we are experiencing a disaster likely to be
many times worse than Alaska’s Exxon Valdez. Until somebody figures
out how to turn off the flow of oil, we can’t begin to estimate the
size of this catastrophe or imagine that things will get
BP is hoping that a process, never used underwater, will stop
the flow of oil. The technique, called a “top kill” and performed
on above-ground wells in the Middle East, involves shooting heavy
mud and cement into the well. The first shot could come tomorrow.
Chances of success are estimated at 60-70 percent by BP, but the
company’s track record for estimates has not been good so far.
Oily dead birds and other sea life, predicted weeks ago, are
washing up on shore. Sensitive marsh lands, impossible to clean
without destroying them, have been touched. Longtime fishermen and
fishing communities are shut down.
“Once it gets in the marsh, it’s impossible to get out,” Charles
Collins, 68, a veteran crew boat captain told reporters for the
Los Angeles Times. “All your shrimp are born in the marsh. All
your plankton. The marsh is like the beginning of life in the sea.
And it’s in the marshes. Bad.”
Yesterday, I joined a telephone press conference with Lisa
Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. She
was doing her best to calmly cope with the enormity of the
disaster. She had just come off a boat after witnessing oil piling
up on shore. Joining her was Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry, who
is in charge of the National Response Team.
Jackson said the federal government has ordered BP to cut back
on the use of dispersants, which break up the oil but may have some
toxic effects. No formal studies have ever been conducted on the
effects of applying huge quantities of dispersants underwater, but
limited studies in recent days suggest that this approach may be
the least harmful method to keep the oil from coming ashore.
Without such treatment, the oil itself is highly toxic and a
much greater concern, she said. BP has been ordered to look for
less toxic alternatives than the dispersant currently being used,
but safer alternatives may not be available in the quantities
needed. Meanwhile, Jackson said her staff believes the treatment
can be equally effective by using half or less the amount of
chemical applied until now.
Keeping as much oil off the shorelines as possible seems to be
the top priority. That starts by keeping some of the oil immersed
as tiny droplets underwater. Oil that reaches the surface is
attacked by skimmers and burned if necessary. Fighting the oil with
absorbent booms and pads along the shore is the last step.
I hope this strategy is not one of “out of sight, out of mind,”
because the oil immersed in the water becomes a problem of its own.
It’s been compared to a bottle of oil-and-vinegar salad dressing
that you shake up, breaking the oil into tiny globules that float
around. Smaller globules are believed to degrade faster in the
Still, with this oil starting 5,000 feet below the surface, it
could take months or years to coalesce, rise to the surface and
come ashore, where cleanup crews could be facing oil damage for an
undetermined amount of time.
“I’m afraid we’re just seeing the beginning of what is going to
be a long, ugly summer,” Ed Overton, who has consulted on oil
spills for three decades, told Bob Marshall, a reporter with the
New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I hope and pray I’m wrong, but I
think what we’re in for is seeing a little bit come in each day at
different places for a long, long time — months and months. That’s
not what I said in the beginning of this. But events have made me
amend my thoughts.”
Some constituents of the oil will never come ashore but will
drop to the bottom of the Gulf in various locations. As specialized
bacteria move in to break down the oily compounds, they will
consume oxygen, potentially adding to the dead zone in the Gulf of
If this were an earthquake, I would be reporting on damage
assessments and offering hope for a renewed community. If this were
an oil spill from a ship, I would be talking about worse-case
scenarios and long-term effects. But, frankly, it is hard to know
what to say when the spill goes on and on with no certainty at
To view a live video feed of the oil spill, go to
BP’s web cam mounted on a remotely operated vehicle.
Last, but not least, I am learning a good deal from bloggers who
are part of the UC Davis
Oiled Wildlife Care Network. They are working in the Gulf and
providing an insider’s view about their work with affected
When Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared the
oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a matter of national significance,
she essentially put on alert all emergency management systems
across the country.
Washington Department of Ecology, which is responsible for
responding to oil spills in this state, has identified resources
the agency could send while maintaining an adequate local response
capability, said Ecology’s Curt Hart in a memo he issued Monday to
news reporters and editors.
Spill response companies in Washington and across the country
are identifying people and resources that could be sent to the
Gulf, he said.
Hart is communications manager for Ecology’s Spill Prevention,
Preparedness, and Response Program. Here’s a portion of his
Ecology expects to continue to receive requests for people and
equipment from the spill response community to assist in the
response. Our department is working to make sure we have a sound
plan in place to process these requests. It is important that we
are well coordinated in this effort and that no required response
resources are moved out of Washington state without explicit
Some, like the Marine Spill Response Corp., have already sent 26
experienced responders, 15,000 gallons of chemical dispersants used
to minimize oil shoreline impacts, 1,400 feet of special fireproof
boom to burn oil in place on the water.
On Friday, April 30, the Department of Homeland Security asked
state agencies in Washington, including Ecology, what resources
they could send to aid our Gulf coast communities if and when it
This type of issue is not new to Ecology. We have had mutual aid
plans in place with the other west coast states and the Province of
British Columbia since 1993. It is our general policy to provide
the appropriate resources necessary to support our partners in the
United States and Canada in order to protect our national
environmental and economic interest. We may also need their help in
Ecology and other state agencies are participating in the state
Department of Military Emergency Management Division’s “Emergency
Management Assistance Compact (EMAC)” activation. EMAC is a
national interstate mutual aid agreement that enables states to
share resources during times of disaster. We have identified the
types and number of resources that we could send while still
maintaining our local response capability.
In addition to private responders, Ecology has indicated that it
could send 11 specialists in oil spills and natural resources and
27 shoreline cleanup technicians, according to an
Associated Press story by George Tibbits.
It is likely that the cleanup will go on for months. In previous
oil-spill cleanups, workers who come later to relieve the first
responders are invaluable — and that may be when the most workers
from the West Coast are called in.