Monday, June 13, 2011

A rare but important victory

As some AZ readers may know, I am a video producer by trade and for the past year I've had the good fortune of working with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network - LEAN documenting the health effects of the BP oil spill on clean-up workers and fisherman.  Right before the BP spill happened, I began researching an issue I was made aware of by LEAN about the amount of pollution the oil and gas industry is dumping into our Gulf's ecosystem on a daily basis.

The subject matter is about "produced water" which is a waste stream product created during the oil and gas drilling process.  My focus is mainly on the offshore rigs which dump over a billion barrels of produced water into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico every year.  It is estimated for every barrel of oil or gas produced, some 7 to 10 barrels of produced water are created.

Some of you may have seen "Gasland", the superb documentary about on-shore gas fields, fracking, and produced water discharges created by the drilling process.  Imagine the same thing, multiplied in orders of magnitude, being dumped directly into the Gulf every day.  That's what we're dealing with.

What's in it?  There are three basic classes of pollutants in the waste stream: benzene elements, heavy metals, and NORM (Normally Occurring Radioactive Material).  The benzene properties tend to stay on the ocean's surface and are burned off by sunlight but the heavy metals and NORM "fall out" over large areas around the rigs where they are consumed by benthic (bottom feeders) organisms and work their way back up through the food chain.   Eventually the toxins enter the human food chain through seafood consumption.

Mercury, thallium, lead, arsenic, are just some of the heavy metals in produced water but the real danger comes from NORM, radium-226 and radium-228.

The sheer amount of NORM pumped into the Gulf from produced waters since off shore drilling began is mind boggling.  In fact, all we can do is estimate because the EPA or LDEQ (Louisiana Dept. of Environmental Quality) has not done a comprehensive study on the effects of produced waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2003, the EPA was supposed to have conducted a comprehensive EIS (Environmental Impact Study) on the effects of the produced water discharge in the Gulf of Mexico but the EIS was never executed (under W. Bush admin.) and the permitting process was turned over to the LDEQ.  The LDEQ then eased the restrictions on rig owners allowing them to actually increase the amount of produced water they were discharging into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

LEAN filed suit against the LDEQ to force a change in the permitting process and study the immediate and cumulative effects the waste stream has had on the Gulf ecosystem.  Last friday, the Louisiana State Court of Appeals upheld LEAN's position in a court ruling....a huge victory for LEAN and the Gulf Coast environment.

Last September, I interviewed two NORM/produced water experts on the subject, Marvin Resnikoff and Stanley Waligora.  The interview is a preliminary interview for the full length documentary, but this interview (about 40 minutes long) gives you a good background on the subject and just how serious the matter is.

Please pay attention to what the scientists state in the interview, "The BP oil spill can be cleaned up"

However, a half century of radioactive waste discharge in the Gulf is going to be with us for thousands of years.  

If you can handle my ugly mug, and this ugly story, it's worth watching to understand how big this problem really is:

Interview with Stanley Waligora, Jr. and Marvin Resnikoff on Produced Water in the Gulf of Mexico from Jason Berry on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Berry, has there been any follow-up to this story? I know both Stan and Marvin professionally and both are quite competent.

Jason Brad Berry said...

No, I tried to get funding to make a documentary about the subject but there just wasn't any interest. I would still love to tell the story because I think it's the biggest untold story of the Gulf but I can't invest that much time unless I can find the cash to justify it.