It was a grim statistic the day the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was classified as being the worst in history. Since it occurred right at the beginning of hurricane season, there has been an extra layer of worry added into the mix of damage yet to come. While it will be some time before federal and private agencies come up with exact numbers of the amount of marine and avian life lost, it is safe to say that it has been significant. Dead dolphins and dead or injured pelicans have washed up on shore in tragic numbers. Fish and crustacean counts are down to the point where fishermen have stopped fishing, knowing that even if they do catch something; it is likely to be too contaminated for human consumption. Those same creatures are also too contaminated for consumption by animals and birds but they are being eaten.
Even without a storm surge, the effects of the oil spill are wide spread. The food chain has been interrupted. Shoreline estuaries have been coated in oil preventing the safe hatching of many varieties of birds and amphibians. A storm surge from a hurricane could intensify the damage exponentially.
Horrifying video of storm surges such as the one that slammed into Puhket Thailand show a wall of water that reached to the top of three story condos. Everything in the path was struck with unbelievable force. If a hurricane strikes the Gulf of Mexico this summer, the oil that is both below and on top of the surface could literally be hurled inland as much as 20-25 miles, dropping the deadly oil mixed with dispersants into the soil and every body of water in the way. Imagine a small wound that suddenly hemorrhages soaking the victim with blood. The oil spill is anything but a small wound but if storm strength caused it to hemorrhage, the already-damaged Louisiana coastline could edge closer to death.
Think back to New Orleans when thousands of people were marooned by Katrina’s flooding waters that soon became toxic and disease-ridden. Add oil into that water and the death toll would have been even higher. There would have been few stories of swimming pets scooped up into rescue boats. Everyone who was forced to wade through the mix could have become ill.
The immediate effects of drenching the ground and inland bodies of water would only be part of the story. Land could be become unusable for agriculture. Already diminished species of endangered wildlife and birds could have their numbers decline even more. If the land 25 miles in from the coast became uninhabitable, think about the economic consequences on an already poor area of the country.
Houses that have oil-laden water rush through them may be permanently ruined. Yards that can no longer grow flowers or be a safe place for children to play will damage the real estate market further. Even the waterfowl that sportsmen hunt for food may not be safe to eat.
Looking even farther down the line, it’s possible that secondary ingestion of oil may cause health problems in humans and animals for years to come. The cows that graze on pasture touched by oily water may produce tainted milk. The livestock butchered may have ingested contaminants that will poison people.
The sad fact is that the ecological chain connecting all of life is fragile. From the tiniest crab on the ocean floor to the 200 lb man eating steak for dinner in a fine restaurant, the connection is real. What harms the smallest has the potential to harm everyone on the chain. Horrifying as it has been, the oil spill is contained in the ocean for now. Although scientists are worrying how far currents may take it, it’s still in the water. Add a hurricane with a strong tidal surge and all of that could change.