Water and the BP Oil Spill

Guest: Alex Prud’homme- Author and investigative journalist.

Alex Prud’homme is a freelance investigative journalist who has written in many areas, including co-authoring a book with Julia Child. He has been interested in water since following New York City’s problems with pollution of the Hudson River while growing up these as a child. Manhattan, especially, has no natural creeks and very little groundwater (the other boroughs, Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Staten Island, do have small natural creeks). When you drill a well in Manhattan, you hit bedrock very quickly.

Even though 100% of New York City’s water is piped in, the city has some of the best drinking water in the country. The system is mostly gravity operated and the water is largely unfiltered. The city is currently updating its piping and storage capacity.

Alex believes, as does Sharon, that in the 21st century, water will become increasingly important. Safe, sanitary fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce and no organism on Earth can live without water.
Alex grew up in the Newtown Creek area of Brooklyn, where oil has been spilling into the groundwater for over a century. This is extremely underreported and has been occurring slowly over many decades. It is estimated that 17 to 30 million gallons have been spilled. The area was originally a natural wetland off the East River on which oil refineries were built in the 1880’s. There are still oil refineries there today and they are still dumping or leaking oil.

In 1950, the oil in the ground ignited and still little was done. The neighborhood is now a super-fund site and there has been some cleanup but not to the extent of better publicized areas such as Love Canal.
Wetland preservation is extremely important because wetlands strain and filter the environment and help keep it clean. In the US Gulf Coast region, extensive wetlands act as a baffle for storm surges to lessen the impact of hurricanes. They are very rich in wildlife and also very fragile.

Sharon noted that humans tend to overdo things and taking water for granted is one of them. We are the blue planet whose surface is 71% water. However, only 0.3% of our vast water supply is fresh, safe to drink and unpolluted. We can live without oil but not without water.

Louisiana could have prepared for an oil disaster but the EPA would not permit it. Since nothing bad had ever happened before, they got lazy, with no contingency or worse case planning. Oil wells are very powerful and very fragile and spills have a capacity to do an amazing amount of damage as they domino up and down the economy.


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