Lebanon's Oil Spill Revisited - 14 Months Later
Images of blackened sands and tar encrusted coastal rocks dominated a
presentation on the 2006 oil spill caused by the Israeli bombardment of
the Jiyeh power plant in the early days of the summer invasion of Lebanon.
David Little, a British environmental consultant who specializes in oil
spills, and Professor Imad Saoud, a specialist on aquatic studies in AUB's
Biology Department, assessed the Lebanese oil spill under the auspices
of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs
in College Hall on October 12.
Both lecturers stressed the importance of knowledge of the environment
and the need for ongoing monitoring strategies. Professor Little highlighted
the importance of knowledge of environmental sensitivity, the source of
impact, vulnerability, and resources, both cultural and natural. Relative
sensitivity of the point of impact involves time considerations: When
do birds and fish migrate? When do turtles lay their eggs? What is the
state of the flora and fauna at the moment of contamination?
Comparing Lebanon's spill to other major oil spills, Little noted the
impact of the Israeli war on Lebanon's response to the spill, the number
of kilometers of coastline contaminated, and the lack of a centralized
response. Chemistry, biology, and physics are the tools for understanding
the treatment of oil spills, according to Little.
Both speakers saw dangers in plunging into clean-up without sufficient
preparation and knowledge. Sometimes it is better to let nature take its
course at first, and then launch a clean-up at a later date. Professor
Saoud pointed out that no good data on existing pollution of coastal waters
and biodiversity in Lebanon exist. The hard questions to ask: Will removing
the oil return the beach to what it was? Will leaving the oil in place
affect biodiversity? How will oil-affected soil be disposed of?
Professor Saoud summarized what has been learned from the disaster. A
long-term monitoring plan is basic. One organization should be responsible
for dealing with catastrophe. The use of environmental catastrophe for
political gain should be considered a major felony and dealt with accordingly.
Sometimes local scientists know more than foreigners-and certainly care
more, Saoud concluded.