In any field, there are major players who stand out. Each industry has certain companies that everyone simply knows by name. They are often the largest or wealthiest, and they almost always dominate the rest. Considering this, when it comes to coal, Southern Company is infamous. It is the eighth largest utility company in the world and the second largest in the United States, getting the majority of its energy supply from coal. But the company also gets a significant amount of its notoriety from its many other crooked practices. Greenpeace has long investigated Southern Company for funding Senators like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who has worked to overturn the EPA’s authority on the Clean Air Act, and the company’s legacy of dedicating effort and money to prevent other clean energy futures as well.
See here for Greenpeace’s effort to publicize Lisa Murkowski’s connections to companies such as Southern Company, Exxon and Chevron.
Southern Company is among the top five highest carbon dioxide emitting power companies in the world, according to Carbon Monitoring for Action. In 2006, one of the company’s subsidiaries was sued for violating the Clean Air Act and another of it’s plants in Georgia is facing environmental justice issues for being too close to residencies.
Given these facts, when we saw that Southern Company had bought a half page ad in the Washington Post earlier this month depicting a cartoon figure holding a chunk of green colored coal, it seemed a little suspicious. It seemed like greenwashing. The ad claims that Southern Company is “working toward building the world’s first zero-emissions, coal-fired generating plant” and “is spending $3.9 billion over the next three years to lower coal emissions.” But the message is hard to believe when considering the true nature of this company. In fact, it’s a 360-degree turn around from what has traditionally defined the company.
One underlying message clearly depicted in the ad is the idea of Carbon, Capture and Storage to create the so-called “zero emissions” plant. CCS is a process of capturing and then storing CO2 from point sources, such as coal-fired power plants, underground. The company alludes to this process in the advertisement with the statement, “..if you’re looking for the best energy solution, start with what’s under your feet.”
But CCS is not any kind of proven solution to take care of CO2. In fact, Greenpeace believes it actually fosters the dependence on fossil fuels.
Another prominent theme in this ad is “common sense.” It states at the top, “Common sense says don’t eliminate what you can make cleaner,” and toward the bottom reads “powered by common sense.” However, knowing about this company’s history and the science behind coal, it seems more sensible to say that there isn’t any truth to this ad.
The background of this company makes this advertisement a perfect example of greenwashing and any efforts they claim to have toward clean energy null and void. They are a coal company and revolve around something that will never be clean or safe.
Green coal will always exist only in the mind of a sketch artist; Never in reality and especially not from a group like Southern Company.
For the last month, I have opened my computer each morning with a sigh and often a cringe. It’s the way that I have been starting my day for weeks now.
Scouring the homepages of news web sites is pat of my morning routine, as regular as my cup of coffee. Being informed is a human natured comfort; something that leaves you a little more prepared to tackle the day ahead.
Lately however, I have grown afraid of what the headlines at the top of each web page read. I know one or more of them will be an update on the oil spill and I have grown accustom to being afraid of what will come next. I cringe to see the latest estimate of gallons, how an attempt to cap the leak has failed, another insensitive quote from Tony Hayward, or photos of white birds with wings and bodies slicked in burnt orange. Beginning my days with these things has made the desire to be informed somewhat of a burden.
I am usually a mess by 10 a.m.
Weary. Tired. Hopeless. Nervous.
Yesterday, the latest main headline scrolled across many news organization’s web sites announced that BP was indeed moving forward to burn large amounts of oil. Immediately, I am flooded with mixed emotions. This time it’s anger, curiosity and fear. Is this really the best option? Can we not devise any other alternative? Is it safe for the environment or others in the Gulf? Is this a half-baked idea, decided under overwhelming pressure and haste?
According to an Associated Press story, BP will devise a burning rig and use a device called the EverGreen Burner to turn the flow of oil into a vapor and then is burned. Perhaps if this was exactly how it occurred, it was safe and environmentally friendly, I would feel more comfortable about this being a possible solution.
But there are a lot of risks to consider.
The first are the environmental effects of this process. What will be the consequences of vaporizing the crude oil that has already made people sick and killed animals? Documents from Total E&P, a multinational energy company, said that the burning oil that would release sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides and methane would pose a “moderate risk to the environment.”
Moderate by definition means average or temperate. But can this term really be used in relation to environmental damage or health? The risks of the toxins being released into the environment from the burning oil are not exactly what I would call moderate.
Consider the details of some of the chemicals that will be released into the air from the oil being burned:
- Nitrous Oxides: These are greenhouse gases and ozone depleters that account for 6% of the heating effect in the atmosphere. They are also significant contributors to the formation of smog, which has an affect on the lives of both plant life and cause respiratory problems in humans.
- Sulfur Dioxide: One of the releases that could come from burning the oil is Sulfur Dioxide, a compound known to also cause serious respiratory diseases, hinder breathing, and has the potential to lead to premature death. Both Nitrous Oxides and Sulfur Dioxide are also causes of acid rain, an occurrence that has damaged rivers, lakes, soil, forests, plants, animals and human health.
- Methane: It is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than CO2. Methane is often produced from decay in landfills and the digestive process of animals.
The effects of these compounds on the environment are severe and lasting. It’s clear that burning the oil and the results of the event should not be taken lightly.
Additionally, safety of people needs to be considered. The oil spill has already been the cause of 11 people’s deaths and now is possibly making the people cleaning it up sick.
For instance, the reliability of the equipment being used in this burning effort should also be questioned.
According to the Associated Press, it is unclear about how many times this "EverGreen Burner” has been used in situations such as this. It seems like this fact alone should have experts questioning whether or not it is safe to use this kind of equipment in an already dangerous situation.
BP also said it would be careful not to allow the flames and heat to endanger other vessels. Can this be guaranteed?
We take a risk of an oil spill occurring every day that we continue to drill offshore. Today, by using a technique to clean up a spill that is also an environmental and safety hazard, we could be exacerbating the effects of this event. Perhaps burning the oil can be done in a safe and effective way. Perhaps it is the best solution to remove the underwater islands in the Gulf.
However, we must be sure of that before decisions are made from haste and panic. BP was clearly irresponsible with the running of the Deepwater Horizon before this disaster happened. The company should be held to environmentally responsible standards when cleaning up the pieces.
Lately, a significant amount of news on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has centered upon the giant, underwater plumes of oil currently being investigated by both scientists and journalists.
ABC News has referred to the plumes as “islands” in a frightening video showing evidence that the oil has reached significant depths.
The thought that the oil could at one point be soaked up along the surface with booms made of hair is now a hopeless wish that existed long ago. But it’s clear that the oil will reach many more creatures and ecosystems than originally thought.
One of the environments currently being threatened is the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Texas and Louisiana. The underwater oil “islands” threaten the bountiful life that currently exists in the region and the possibility that it will ever be the same again.
See here for more information on the oil spill’s effects on this area.
However, when researching this marine sanctuary, we also discovered that it was also once the focus of a major greenwashing scheme headed by Shell Oil Company.
At a time when the fate of this federally protected area is so vulnerable and at risk of being altered forever by oil, Greenpeace felt it necessary to shed light on the ironic fact that Shell has used the place to brand its own image as green and actually caring about the environment.
The oil company ran a full-page print advertisement in National Geographic Magazine and several other publications, which featured a color picture of a diver swimming through deep blue water featuring brightly colored fish and coral. The statement in the middle of the ad says: “What do we really need in today’s energy hungry world? More gardeners.”
More gardeners? If that’s really what we needed, we could just stop drilling for oil all together right? All we need is more gardeners.
But Shell doesn’t really mean that at all.
They know that in today’s energy hungry world, oil is the food and the company’s main priority. Even through the thickest green glasses, few are going to dispute that fact.
The rest of the text on the advertisement reads that a Shell employee and marine biologist has been working with the company to protect the area.
But how much could the oil giant really be protecting when the company also actually drills near the vulnerable sanctuary.
The advertisement and words on the page are clearly for show.
Shell does have close ties to the Flower Gardens. In fact, an executive from Shell Canada, Rebecca Nadel serves on the sanctuary’s advisory council. Also on the team for the sanctuary is James Sinclair of the now notorious Minerals Management Service. At first glance, it doesn’t exactly look like those employed to protect the sanctuary are representing the most responsible organizations.
Shell has a cozy bed in sanctuary bureaucracy.
The company however, does donate money to Flower Gardens. The Green Life reports $5,000 of direct funding each year. However, the site also acknowledges that it costs nearly six figures to run one advertisement in National Geographic. For a drop in the bucket, the oil giant rebrands its image as being concerned with the underwater sanctuary.
BP has run very similar greenwashing campaigns that seek to portray the company as putting forth a significant amount of effort toward alternative energy. Further research on the topic also found that they were only focusing a small percentage on alternatives, when the majority of their focus proved to be on oil.
If Shell really wanted to protect the area, it wouldn’t be drilling at all. When looking at the real facts of this company, it has no right to run advertisements that it is truly working to save the area that should be protected as a gold mine of beautiful species and ecosystems.
Every time that Shell drills again near the area, they are taking the risk that an event like the Deepwater Horizon spill could happen again. It’s a risk, and it severely outweighs any kind of protection that their $5,000 might provide. It’s a risk that can have serious consequences, and it’s a risk that forbids Shell from being called a truly green company or caring about the environment. It’s a risk that that completely undermines their pretty, full-page color advertisement and smoothly written paragraph that fakes sensitivity.
The company’s greenwashing actions seem even more intense when considering that Shell is currently moving forward with plans to drill off the Arctic coast of Alaska, even in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Should the oil from the current spill begin to effect the Flower Gardens Sanctuary, it will forever alter the status of what was supposed to be a protected place. However, it should be noted that as long as drilling by companies like BP, Shell, and others, still occurs, the threat will always be there.
It’s true, we do need more gardeners in the world. But not if they have the same green thumb that Shell does.
Someone should tell that company that oil isn’t good for any garden.
August is roughly two months away. There are approximately sixty days until the first day of that month. Nine weeks.
And that is too far for me to grasp right now or plan for. It seems like forever.
August always signals the start of fall: the start of a new semester at school, the end of picnics and camping. But today is only June 3. It’s just starting to get hot.
However, this past Sunday, news broke that exacerbated this feeling, dramatically extending the time between now and then. Officials warned that it could take until the end of summer to cap the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. With this information, August seems like an entire lifetime away.
NOAA currently estimates that 210,000 gallons are spilling into the Gulf everyday, roughly twelve million more gallons will flow from the Deepwater Horizon, before it is stopped. But some say this is a conservative estimate, outside experts estimate upwards of 1 million gallons are spilling everyday, making it over 60 million gallons by the beginning of August.
The meaning and true impact of this statement is incomprehensible. It would be a severe understatement, perhaps even a belittlement, to say that the consequences of that much oil spilling into the Gulf will have widespread effects.
And while it is apparent that the spill has already taken a toll on ecosystems, fisherman, tourism and more, there are many other aspects along the coast that will be seriously threatened, should the oil continue to spill into the summer.
One of these is the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary located approximately 100 miles off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. Flower Garden is the only National Marine sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico and only one of fourteen federally designated underwater areas protected by NOAA across the world. The place got its name because of its diverse array of brightly colored plants, coral, algae and animals.
The homepage of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation has named the Flower Garden, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Gray’s Reef off the coast of Georgia as being threatened by the spill.
The Flower Garden’s web site also made a statement last week that NOAA has an emergency response plan in case it the oil spill grows enough to affect the area.
A growing body of research shows the plan may need to be used.
Researchers have recently discovered multiple underwater plumes of oil that stretch for miles that will affect deep-sea life such as Sperm whales and ultimately the life on the floor of the oceans in the Gulf’s sanctuary.
The New York Times said one plume is 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick.
The University of South Florida reported another plume being 22 miles long, 6 miles wide and 1,000 feet deep.
Not surprisingly, in the wake of the multitude of research from a variety of qualified scientists, BP CEO Tony Hayward has been quoted as saying that there is “no evidence,” that the oil is below the surface.
But the depth of the oil is not the only thing that may threaten these protected areas.
Coral spawning in the Flower Gardens occurs in late summer. The event usually occurs each year for 7 to 10 days after the full moon during the month of August.
It is the same month that officials “hope” to cap the spill.
Another critical reason for this to be stopped is born.
NOAA was recently quoted in Science Daily stating that the timing of spawning is critical and that the oil spill could severely damage this natural process.
The administration said, “Corals that are spawning at the time of an oil spill can be damaged because the eggs and sperm, which are released into the water at very precise times, remain at shallow water depths for various times before they settle. Thus, in addition to compromising water quality, oil pollution can disrupt the long-term viability and reproductive success of corals, rendering them more vulnerable to other types of disturbances.”
The possibility of this occurring is about nine weeks away. Approximately 60 days.
It’s apparent that there have already been many visible effects of this event. However, not knowing when exactly it will end and slowly finding more and more that have and will be harmed in this event and its aftermath, unfolds everyday.
However, if we continue to participate in offshore drilling in any form, it may be only time before this happens again. Greenpeace believes that the only way to prevent an event like this and its consequences is to ban any and all new drilling.
Perhaps setting a deadline to stop the oil from pouring into the Gulf will help get the job done. The consequences of BP and all others involved not meeting it will affect life above and below the sea forever.
But maybe deadlines are just what are needed. No one will get a cash bonus this time for meeting a target date, but it’s clear that there is much more at stake.