Ripples from oil spill felt at home

Temple faculty and students worked to provide aid to the Southern shores.

Temple faculty and students worked to provide aid to the Southern shores.

In four-and-a-half months, one can go on summer vacation, take a sabbatical, finish a semester and even begin and end a relationship.

On April 20, an oil well erupted in the Gulf of Mexico and led to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. On Sept. 7, more than four months later, the spill could be resolved.

An Aug. 27 Wall Street Journal report by Angelo Gonzalez said retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen and his team were to replace “the blowout preventer that sits atop the well that unleashed the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” beginning this past Friday.

The article goes on to explain that, “responders could begin the final step to kill the well, which involves pumping mud and cement down the area between the well and the rock formation that surrounds it, on Sept. 7.” The entire process may last as many as 96 hours.

And while the spill has had little direct effect here in Pennsylvania, there is little doubt it will have a lasting impact on environmental and energy policies.
Amelia Garrett, the president of Students for Environmental Action – Temple’s major student environmental organization – said there are still plenty of people who want to help with the spill. But, she said, BP isn’t looking for volunteers.

“It’s frustrating,” Garrett said. “In some sense no volunteers is good because BP is paying the people that got hit the hardest to clean up. But they’re only getting $10 an hour. I know Temple students that have jobs on campus that make more than that. It’s not nearly up to par with what they would have been making now as fishermen.”

SEA worked with Matter of Trust, a nonprofit organization that was hired by BP to gather donations of hair and other materials. The collected hair, wool, nylons and fur are turned into booms that absorb oil from the surface of the water.

But once Matter of Trust gathered all the materials, there was dispute over whether BP would use the booms. According to Matter of Trust’s boom FAQ page, the company’s booms are being used – but not by BP.

“BP’s Critical Resources Materials Management Team contacted us on May 15, and they were very excited and produced a report for usage of our warehouses of donated natural fibers to protect the canals,” Matter of Trust’s website says. “On May 21 BP’s Public Affairs department, who were not in contact with the BP Critical Resources Department, told us that BP wanted to apologize but that had enough of their own BP synthetic boom.

“Since then, Gulf municipalities, harbors, beach condo associations and hotels are taking the donated natural fiber boom to protect their shores, estuaries, canals,” the statement continues, “wherever they can.”

Matter of Trust’s hair mats information page says the nonprofit is currently not accepting fibers. So although SEA can no longer collect and donate hair, its members are still trying to be as active as possible.

“They don’t want volunteers, they don’t want hair, so all we can do is be politically active,” Garrett said. “Low and behold, it’s an election year. We can definitely be heard and vote for whomever is supportive of better regulation on offshore drilling. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
But SEA members aren’t the only ones on Main Campus taking initiative. Temple professors are surveying the spill first hand.

Erik Cordes, an assistant professor of biology at Temple who has been quoted in a number of New York Times articles and blog posts about the spill, has conducted extensive research in the Gulf of Mexico. Last summer, he and his team discovered coral not far from where the spill would occur a year later.
Cordes said he is afraid the coral could eventually suffocate from the oil plumes.

Dr. Michel Boufadel is the chair and a professor of the department civil and environmental engineering inside Temple’s College of Engineering. Boufadel traveled to the Gulf to help examine the spill and collaborate with other scientists as to how they might be able to solve the crisis.

Boufadel said he is concerned that area hurricanes would concentrate the oil in one location.

Cordes, Boufadel and Garrett are reminders of how anyone can bring about positive change, even from far away.

“Do really simple things,” Garrett said. “Try going tray-less at Johnson and Hardwick Dining Hall – you’ll save the environment and cut down on the Freshmen 15. Use a water filter or a cheap aluminum bottle as opposed to a 30-pack of bottled water. Turn off the lights.”

Matthew Flocco can be reached at