And now, on top of that, this

The New Orleans Levee (which doesn’t hold anything back) puts it this way in a banner headline of the current issue: “Gasholes.”

What exactly does it mean for Pres. Obama to say, “I am responsible”?  Not much, if anything.  Looks to me like BP is responsible.  Adm. Allen, or whoever it was who said this, was correct when he said BP is best equipped to fix the leak (now roughly equivalent to five Exxon Valdez spills, and counting).  After all, the government is not in the business of deep water oil drilling, at least not so far as I know.

My guess is that board members of every other major oil company are breathing huge sighs of relief that it wasn’t them.  Since the accident, we’ve learned a lot about BP’s actual record on safety and environmental sensitivity (as opposed to the public-relations veneer they put out as ads with beautifully photographed landscapes and Sunburst logos).  Given this record, I also suspect that many industry insiders are saying, “I knew BP was gonna have a big time f*ck-up sooner or later.” Personally, I find that very credible.

For the first six weeks or so of the spill, an average of about a dozen and a half dead birds were being found per week, slowly increasing more recently to about two dozen per week.  This past week, over 600 birds have been picked up.  It took a month and a half for the impact to really make itself felt.  It now has.  Tarballs now floating up onshore as far as Florida.

Evident for some time had been the damage caused by shipping channels cut through the marshes along Louisiana’s coastline.  The damage is due to salt water intrusion.  Picture a large tropical aquarium – now imagine shooting a firehose into the aquarium.  The aquarium water gets pulled out and replaced by the water from the hose.  That’s something like what happens when a shipping channel is cut through a swamp.  Over time, land goes away.

When Hurricane Katrina blew through already-degraded marshes, a great deal more land went away.  Some estimate that the loss from decades of salt water intrusion, then the destruction caused by Katrina, would take generations (plural) to restore, assuming it’s possible at all.

Katrina left stretches of the river, starting about halfway down from New Orleans to the mouth, where one can stand on the levee and see the Gulf of Mexico on both sides.

It’s hard to find maps that accurately depict Louisiana’s coastline today.  Most maps, in atlases, on the web, on foldout wall charts, on TV graphics showing election returns, etc. show Louisiana’s coastline as it was in the 1930s, when it was measured by the US Geological Survey.  That’s still the “official” mapping.  The mouth of the river down from New Orleans to the Gulf is shown big and fat, and much of the state’s coastline is shown way farther out than it is today.

The damage up to now – shipping channels, Katrina – would take generations to repair, meaning anybody over 50 won’t see it the way it was when they were youngsters.

This latest catastrophic engineering failure will destroy at least as much wetland as Katrina did, if not more.

It’s taken 20 years to clean up a single Exxon Valdez spill in an environment that did not present as many challenges as this does.  For example, in Alaska cleaning crews were able to use high pressure hoses to scrub the shorelines.  The marshes are far too fragile for such a technique.

So.  20 years for one Exxon Valdez.  We’ve already had a half dozen.  Not very encouraging.

It’s likely that no one on the low side of 40 has seen Louisiana’s coast the way it’s shown on most maps.  I doubt whether anyone alive today will ever know the coastline measured by US surveyors 80 years ago.

We should change the maps.  The ones in predominant use are misleading.