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It may seem like overkill, but I can’t help but comment some more on the BP oil spill. I suppose what really got me going was an article I read this past week in The Globe and Mail (surprise, surprise). The article in question was entitled, “Damage from spill turning Gulf into ‘biological black hole” (Tuesday, June 8), with an interview of Joe MacInnis, a Canadian undersea explorer.

When asked how long the spill will be a key environmental issue, he is reported to have stated for the next five years.

Now possibly I am missing something in the translation. It is possible that what he is referring to is how long the issue will remain a key issue to the media. If that is what he is saying, then fine. I will agree as much as the next person that the media is fickle. It only takes one relatively small accident or scandal to turn attention away from a devastating environmental or social disaster.

However, I don’t think that that is what is actually intended here. I think what is being suggested is that the impacts will last only as long as five years. Now I’m no marine biologist, but I feel pretty confident in assuming the effects of the spill are going to last a lot longer than that.

As a Canadian, I need only look to the collapse of cod stocks off the coast of Newfoundland to realize that ecosystems can take a whole lot longer than that to rejuvenate (In 1992, bans were placed on the Newfoundland and Labrador cod fishery, but so far Atlantic cod populations have shown virtually no signs of recovery).

Looking to an example in the United States, one need only consider the effects of the Exxon oil spill. This is well documented by a report, “Legacy Of An Oil Spill – 20 Years After The Exxon Valdez” by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. The report asserts that the effects are still being felt on the Alaska ecosystem for species like otters and sea birds.

It has taken scientists twenty years and counting to assess the effects of the Exxon oil spill. Why would anyone make the claim that the effects of the BP oil spill will be felt only for five more years?

Then there is the stance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take into consideration. In their listing of questions and answers about the oil spill, they state, “EPA is currently collecting and analyzing water and sediment samples to help states and other federal agencies understand the immediate and long-term impacts of oil contamination along the Gulf coast…” There. Finally. Something that makes sense.

One last point can be made to drive a final nail into the coffin, so to speak, in MacInnis’ claim. We are only now starting to get an understanding of how much oil will be leaked. This is because yesterday, the U.S. government revised their estimates about the extent of the spill. According to their findings, the leak is at least triple what was originally predicted (last week it was double, which has lead some to speculate when they will release the real numbers).

Now, all of this wouldn’t matter if the BP oil spill wasn’t such a travesty. I say this both with respect to its environmental and economic implications.

On the one hand, it almost goes without saying that the spill is having and will continue to have impacts up and down the Gulf’s food chain. This includes effects on creatures ranging from crab, to sea birds, to whales and dolphins. On the other hand, there is the devastation of the fishing industries in the Gulf in places like Mississippi (which has already had its fair share of tragedy with Katrina) and the ripple effects it will have through all the dependent businesses.

So please. The BP oil spill is enough of a tragedy. Let’s start by being honest with people about the impacts it will actually have. Armed with such information, we should be able to respond more appropriately.

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