"This is probably the biggest environmental disaster we've ever faced in this country. It's certainly the biggest oil spill, and we're responding with the biggest environmental response."
– Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change
1. Microbes – They’re everywhere; they can clean up virtually anything. If only Erin Brockovich had known! Download [Zip file: 2.74MB]
2. Cleaning up the Spill – At any oil spill, anywhere in the world, within 72 hours there will be legions of petroleum eating bacteria on the job. Download [Zip file: 2.72MB]
3. To Disperse or Not – When it comes to cleaning up an oil spill, using detergents or dispersants may in the long term make the problem worse. Download [Zip file: 2.73MB]
4. 198 Oil Spills – As long as we rely on oil, accidents are bound to happen. And the more we use, the more we're likely to spill. First Broadcast in 1989. Download [Zip file: 2.74MB]
5. 199 Oil Spills – Techniques of Removal – The effectiveness of methods used to clean up oil spills depends on how much, and what type, of oil is spilled. First Broadcast in 1989. Download [Zip file: 2.74MB]
6. 404 Oil Spill Aftermath – How long can we reasonably expect an oilspill to impact on its immediate environment? First Broadcast in 1990. Download [Zip file: 2.74MB]
7. 415 Oil Spill Aftermath – In the Field – Years after an oil spill occurs, scientists continue field work to determine its long-term effects. First Broadcast in 1990. Download [Zip file: 2.74MB]
8. 416 Oil Spill Aftermath – Hidden Effects – An oil spill's most lasting impacts may take place underground. First Broadcast in 1990. Download [Zip file: 2.74MB]
9. 439 Waste Oil – What spills 185 million gallons of oil a year in the US? The answer may surprise you. First Broadcast in 1990. Download [Zip file: 2.73MB]
10. 440 Waste Oil – Recycling – When recycling used motor oil, there are many options and challenges. First Broadcast in 1990. Download [Zip file: 2.74MB]
11. 3277 South African Oil Spill – Penguins – When penguins are affected by oil spills, they have to be cleaned- by hand. First Broadcast in 2004. Download [Zip file: 2.75MB]
12. 4578 Biomimicry – Giraffes – A petroleum alternative: Giraffe Mucus!! Aided by mucus, giraffes routinely swallow sharp thorns without hurting themselves. First Broadcast in 2009. Download [Zip file: 2.78MB]
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Oil Spills R Us
Besides contributing to quite a number of human ulcers, the Gulf Spill may well be a "gastric" event on a planetary scale! While oil is certainly a "natural substance," it's relatively harmless only where it naturally occurs, sequestered deep in the earth (and in naturally-occurring seeps like the famous La Brea Tar Pits). Outside of these contexts is another matter. By analogy, think of the damage our stomach acids do when they escape from their own protective enclosure.
So, how to best deal with an ongoing environmental disaster? We're posting a dozen new and archival programs that we hope can help shed light some light on this matter. Recently, I spoke with Terry Hazen, head of the Ecology Department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and one of the world's leading experts on bioremediation (using microbes to clean up hazardous waste and oil spills). What he has to say raises many questions. Are we doing enough, or in some cases, too much? Oil-covered pelicans and devastation to the coastal ecosystem certainly call for action, but along with physical containment and cleanup methods, should we be using naturally occurring microorganisms instead of chemical dispersants? According to Hazen, these detergents and dispersants may prove to be a greater detriment than the oil itself.
It's not the first time we've been in this situation, although not on this scale. Please listen to our archival programs, which sound as though they could have been recorded yesterday. These programs feature interviews with – among others – John Farrington, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; and Chuck Kennicut of Texas A&M University, who – twenty years ago, – said "there needs to be a national policy as well as a national readiness to react to these types of spills in a timely manner" (program #198). We believe these programs are as prescient today as they were when we first aired them.
Jim Metzner, Producer
Pulse of the Planet