When Hurricane Ike hit the U.S. Gulf Coast last month, it unleashed an environmental disaster, details of which are only now beginning to emerge. The ecological damage gives some indication of what the tropical storm-vulnerable Southeast could face with the expansion of the offshore oil industry.
At least a half-million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico and the wetlands, bayous and bays of Louisiana and Texas, according to an Associated Press examination of federal data:
The AP's analysis found that, by far, the most common contaminant left in Ike's wake was crude oil -- the lifeblood and main industry of both Texas and Louisiana. In the week of reports analyzed, enough crude oil was spilled nearly to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and more could be released, officials said, as platforms and pipelines were turned back on.
About half of the crude oil known to be spilled so far came from one facility operated by St. Mary Land and Exploration Co. on Goat Island, Texas, near hard-hit Bolivar Peninsula, the AP reports. Ike's surge flooded the plant and broke the pipes connecting its eight storage tanks, which held oil produced from two wells in Galveston Bay. Most of that oil is believed to have ended up in the Gulf of Mexico, which is already suffering from a massive Dead Zone caused by fertilizer pollution runoff.
Studies on marine species have found that the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons contained in petroleum can remain toxic for many years following an oil spill. Crude oil also contains toxic heavy metals.