Thursday, September 23, 2010

The BP Oil Spill: Opinion vs Science

Currently there is a lot of discussion about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and it’s on going effects. However, nobody seems able to agree on what exactly these effects are, or how serious their fallout will be. An example of this disagreement is apparent in the article “BP: Is Most of the Oil Really Gone” and the data it cites from a study organized by the NIC (National Incident Command) on the same subject.

In general the study presented by the NIC says that “burning, skimming and direct recovery from the wellhead removed one quarter (25%) of the oil released from the wellhead. One quarter (25%) of the total oil naturally evaporated or dissolved, and just less than one quarter (24%) was dispersed (either naturally or as a result of operations) as microscopic droplets into Gulf waters."(Lubchenco, Mcnutt, Lehr, Sogge, Miller, Hammond, Conner 2010) This leaves 26 percent of the oil still un-dissolved in the Gulf of Mexico.

Connor Gibney
September 23 2010
ENVS 10*20 Prof. Newman

(Lubchenco, Mcnutt, Lehr, Sogge, Miller, Hammond, Conner 2010)

The study is very careful to make the reader understand that these values are estimates. They explain that they obtained this data by finding as many accurate measurements as possible (e.g. daily operational reports) and that when they could not find exact measurements they based their findings on the best available information. This information could have come from the results of a previous study, scientific estimates from clean up groups or the simple expertise of the authour’s of this report. The secondary article, written by Larry West, a journalist, is a simple blog from an environmentally concerned website. In general, his interpretation of the study is that the information is not particularly useful and that the study might be overly optimistic. Since his article is just a simple blog it obviously ignores much of the background information given in the study and really only focuses on some of the main points. As such much of his article is inference as he gives out information but does not have any back-up sources.

The NIC report talks quite a bit about the oil which was dispersed into the Gulf of Mexico. It tries to make it plain that even though this oil was dispersed, it is in fact still in the Gulf and that they only cite this as a positive because it means this oil will biodegrade at an accelerated pace.(Lubchenco, Mcnutt, Lehr, Sogge, Miller, Hammond, Conner 2010) Larry West’s blog mentions the fact that this dispersed oil is in fact still in the Gulf but does not give the reader any further information on what this means. His article simply leaves it at “it’s still a threat.” (West 2010) I dislike that Larry West doesn’t try to depict the positive side of the oil breaking up at all and instead chooses to only look at the most negative interpretation. Similarly the study references other studies whose results are similar to their own saying “preliminary research results from a number of scientists show that the oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill is degrading quickly.”(Lubchenco, Mcnutt, Lehr, Sogge, Miller, Hammond, Conner 2010) Yet, Larry West ignores these studies and simply states his opinion that they are too optimistic, again opting for the most negative outlook on the report he can.

Larry West also frequently makes assertions with no back-up. This is partially forgivable because he was writing a blog, but it makes the primary source seem more reliable in general. An example of this is when he compares the Gulf oil spill with the Exxon Valdez oil spill and says that “Alaska is still feeling the environmental and economic shock waves from that accident.” (West 2010) But he doesn’t give any examples or back up for how Alaska is still feeling the effects. This is a bad comparison to make in my opinion because Alaska is a different environment than the Gulf of Mexico. The study even talks about how bacteria which breakdown oil are usually present in warmer waters, namely the Gulf of Mexico and clearly not Alaska.(Lubchenco, Mcnutt, Lehr, Sogge, Miller, Hammond, Conner 2010) This happens again when West begins talking about how the Gulf absorbing all this oil will increase the size of the dead zone there, without any background information. (West 2010)

In particular the report by the NIC makes an effort to explain that they will continue reporting on the situation as they discover more about how oil affects the environment and what affects its break down in the Gulf of Mexico. The article in no way seemed to be hiding or manipulating information. They make it as plain as possible that everything they said should be looked at critically and that they are likely to end up being wrong about some things, such as dispersion rate. (Lubchenco, Mcnutt, Lehr, Sogge, Miller, Hammond, Conner 2010)On the other hand the article by Larry West is very absolute and leaves little room for your own interpretation. I feel that a more balanced and less critical view point would be more helpful.

Overall I feel that the primary source contains a lot of data which is backed up by research. Their claims are consistent with their findings and opinion is not an important factor in their writing. The study is also clear and concise explaining what it is they were trying to find, what they found, a general explanation of how they found it and also a section of possible sources of error. In contrast, the blog article by Larry West did not have any real back up evidence other than “he/she said.” While this blog was based off of the primary article it makes logic jumps without explaining how they are significant. It is very adamant in its assertions, just like the study, but has no supporting evidence to back it up. It simply nay-says many of the findings of the study…things which the study itself said were problems that they were monitoring and would release information on later. In my opinion the secondary source made much a stronger claim in its writing. It says that specific things will happen based off of data which freely admits they are still researching what the possible effects of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico will be.

Works cited
- West, Larry “BP Spill: Is Most of the Oil Really Gone?” Environmental Issues, August 9th 2010, Web, September 20th 2010.

- Lubchenco, Mcnutt, Lehr, Sogge, Miller, Hammond, Conner “Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil Budget: What happened to the oil?” NOAA News, August 2nd 2010. Web, September 20th 2010.

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