The oil spill, Louisiana sinkholes and Dr. James Hansen

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From Business Insider: “Everyone’s scared to death about property values in the town where a burst pipeline flooded peoples’ lawns with oil.” As of Apr. 2, families who were forced to evacuate the 22 homes directly affected by the spill in Mayflower, Ark. remained displaced. Some others were also affected. A resident living in a home on a nearby street moved with her daughter to a Holiday Inn because of the smell of the spilled oil.

Reportedly, at least 12,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil were released from the ruptured 64-year-old Exxon pipeline, raising concerns about the safety of the numerous aged oil pipelines criss-crossing the nation. Congressman Ed Markey, who is seeking the nomination as the Democratic candidate to replace John Kerry, who resigned his U.S. Senate seat to become Secretary of State, remarked, “Whether it’s the Keystone XL pipeline … or the mess in Arkansas, Americans are realizing that transporting large amounts of this (tar sands) corrosive and polluting fuel is a bad idea for the taxpayers and the environment.” The oil spill has obviously taken some of the wind from behind the sails of the politicians and big oil men who have been strong supporters of TransCanada’s proposal to lay the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

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People who sympathize with the displaced Arkansas residents should also pity the poor souls living atop or near the salt dome in Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities in Louisiana. Until last year, Texas Brine mined salt from the dome and afterward several companies began storing natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas in the resulting caverns. Mark Cartwright, representing Texas Brine, admitted that the company had abandoned operations because of a fear that drilling too close to the edge … could threaten the integrity of the caverns causing a possible collapse. And collapse they did, swallowing acre after acre of land and releasing poisonous sulfur dioxide and possibly, radioactive materials that reportedly had been injected into the caverns.

Other collapses of areas above salt dome caverns have occurred, one of the most notable of which happened in 1980. Lake Peigneur, located 80 miles west of Bayou Corne collapsed into a salt dome cavern when a drilling rig punctured a protective layer in the well, causing the entire lake, the drilling rig, several large barges, and huge chunks of surrounding land to be pulled into the cavern. The bayou flowed backward, creating a large waterfall when the water rushed into the hole. Alabamians should be thankful that there are no salt domes lying beneath the state’s surface. It’s bad enough that some of the state is underlain by coal and limestone. Mining of the latter, especially when accompanied by water withdrawals, results in formation of sinkholes, such as have occurred adjacent to the limestone quarry south of Chewacla State Park and the one near Spring Villa.

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Dr. James E. Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who has repeatedly issued warnings about global warming, is retiring after a 46-year career with the agency. He plans to take a more active role in lawsuits challenging federal and state governments’ failure to limit emissions of greenhouse gases and to fight against importing dirty oil, particularly Canadian tar sands oil, into the U.S. He said in an interview, “As a governmental employee, you can’t testify against the government.” He also said, “At 76, I feel a moral obligation to step up my activism in my remaining years.”

Hansen has been criticized by some of his colleagues for being prone to rhetorical excess and making an occasional scientific error, while others have expressed admiration for his willingness to risk his career for stating his convictions. Some environmentalists have taken exception to some of his positions, his advocacy of nuclear energy, for example.

His activism has resulted in his being cited several times for civil disobedience, one in 2009 for participating in a coal protest and another in that year for sleeping overnight in a tent on Boston Common with students attempting to convince Massachusetts to enact climate legislation. Craig Altemose, an organizer of the Boston affair, stated, “It was humbling to have that solidarity and support from this leader, a lion of a man.”

Dr. Hansen said he senses the beginnings of a mass movement on climate change, led by young people, and pledges to give it his full support. “At my age,” he said, “I am not worried about having an arrest record.”

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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