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Oil spill over Oregon?

Posted by Sean Stevens at May 12, 2010 11:05 AM |

With the Gulf oil spill on all our minds, how 'bout a little perspective.

Oil spill over Oregon?

Bird covered in oil after the Exxon Valdez spill.

After the Exxon Valdez dumped over 10 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound in the spring of 1989, the supertanker had a new destination: Portland.

A local company was the low bidder to examine the ship's wreckage and begin to determine what had happened and how bad things were. Oregon officials were rightfully cautious.

I distinctly remember, as an 8-year-old, wondering why on Earth they would bring this harbinger of environmental doom to our doorstep. I'd seen the images of oil-soaked birds on TV and wanted no part of it for my local rivers and wildlife.

Ultimately, the plan was nixed and the ship was sent to San Diego harbor (where its entry was delayed due to, you guessed it, oil leaks).

The explosion and subsequent massive oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf has brought back memories of the Exxon disaster and questions about the safety of offshore oil drilling.

And it's got many people wondering: "Just how big is this oil spill?"

Check past the jump for the answer.


Doug Heiken in our Eugene office sent along an interesting image this morning.

Oil Spill What If

That's what the Gulf oil spill looks like if you plop it on top of a map of Oregon. Paul Rademacher developed a neat Google Earth plug-in so you can superimpose the spill anywhere in the world.

In looking for this clever tool I stumbled upon an important bit of information courtesy of Jackie Savitz with the ocean conservation group Oceana. Here's what Savitz had to say on the NPR show "On the Media":

It may paint a picture of an area on the surface of the ocean that’s the size of Delaware, to the exclusion of all that area down below the surface, where lots of fish and other marine animals live who are also being exposed to the contamination. It might be more telling to think of it in terms of volume, like how many Olympic-sized pools is that or how many stadiums would that be, or what lake might that be equivalent to.

So, that black splotch covering a good portion of NW Oregon. You have to imagine that it's one big pool with a depth that could be several hundred feet deep in places. Yikes!

There is one bit of good news here. Congressman Kurt Schrader (champion for the Molalla River but less than stellar on forest policy...we'll leave that for another post) has come out with draft legislation to impose a moratorium on offshore drilling on the West Coast.

It may not be the boldest of moves, but with the Obama administration pushing for more offshore drilling, someone had to say it.

Addendum from Andy Kerr

Posted by Sean Stevens at May 13, 2010 09:44 AM
Got an e-mail from Andy Kerr (former Oregon Wild Executive Director) letting me in on a historical tidbit. One of the reasons the Exxon Valdez wasn't allowed to float up the Columbia: If it was still leaking oil, the Coast Guard was going to have to conduct and EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). Oregon Wild (then ONRC) let them know and they decided to go elsewhere.

The Columbia has enough problems. It didn't need (nor does it need now) an oil-dripping disaster chugging up the river.

Thanks Andy.


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