Crying Over Spilt

I haven’t written a great deal about the oil spill because, well, it’s an oil spill, and oil spills suck, but the media has been covering it aplenty and from lots of angles. The Chronicle has actually had a pretty good series going on, talking about all of the ramifications of the spill, cleanup efforts, and so forth. However, when I was reading the Advocate this morning, I realized that the oil spill could potentially have far reaching effects, and I decided to write about them, because this is an angle of the spill that the Chronicle hasn’t been covering.

For those of you who don’t live in California or who have your heads in a haystack somewhere, a tanker ship struck the Bay Bridge last Wednesday, spilling 58,000 gallons (that’s 219,554 liters for people who don’t use our incredibly stupid and archaic measuring system) of oil into the Bay. The whole situation was poorly managed; there was a lot of misinformation about how much oil was spilled, civilians were complaining about Coast Guard zipping past slicks instead of containing them, and so forth. Around San Francisco, a major cleanup effort has been launched to deal with the oil; this is a particularly bad time because a lot of sea birds are in the area, and those sea birds are now covered in oil. Sea birds do not like being covered in oil, incidentally.

Intriguingly, I’ve been reading about a lot of civilian volunteers who are helping with oil cleanup, and these volunteers are saying that the official cleanup crew is making a bollocks of it. On Ocean Beach, “official” cleaners didn’t even have HazMat certification, which is a big no-no when you’re, uhm, handling hazardous material. It’s been great to see civilians all over the Bay helping out however they can, and it’s disheartening to see a less than stellar response to the spill.

Within days, it’s become apparent that the spill is going to wreak havoc on commercial fishing and on the health of the Bay for quite some time, but the more somber implications of the spill didn’t occur to me until I read that article in the Advocate this morning. You see, what spills in the Bay goes out into the ocean, and there’s a current which runs northwards along the coast of California.

That current could bring oil up here.

That oil could contaminate our water, oil our birds, and cause problems with our (admittedly woeful) fishing season. And we probably aren’t going to get the same kind of attention that San Francisco is, because the spill would be less severe here and because who really cares about a bunch of dirty Northern California hippies. And that’s a bummer, because we don’t really have the skills, equipment, or people to handle an oil spill. We sure could use some of those nice volunteers from San Francisco; considering that they all own million dollar vacation homes up here, I already know that they have a place to stay.

It doesn’t sound like we have positively identified oil here yet, but it does sound like a possibility. I’m sure the tourism board is freaking out because no tourist in his or her right might would enjoy traipsing around on a beach covered in oil; they might think that because it’s the “off” season it’s not that big a deal, but it is a big deal. This is the “off” season because of storms, and storms will distribute the oil even further, making it even more difficult to clean up and ensuring that all the happy little marine animals here get a nice new petroleum bath.

Maybe we’ll get lucky; trajectory maps seem to suggest that we’re safe. But the article makes a really good point; we need to have a response plan for spills, and we need equipment to handle spills. It seems like every time there’s a disaster in this country, the response totally sucks. I would really like to avoid a crappy response to an oil spill here, because I am a big fan of healthy oceans. It’s so hard to organize in this community because everyone is an egotistic maniac, but I really think that this is something we should try and come together on, because oil contamination is something that would hurt us all.

This disaster is also causing serious problems for crab fishermen, who depend on a small window of opportunity to make their annual income. They may have voluntarily agreed to wait out of safety concerns, but they’re going to start feeling the pinch pretty soon, and I wonder how the state plans to deal with that particular problem. If the government subsidizes people for not growing crops, can we subsidize people who don’t catch crab?