Gulf Dead Zone Grows With Ethanol DemandBy Roddy Scheer
MSNBC, January 2, 2008
Scientists believe that an oxygen-depleted “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico is growing rapidly as a result of Americans’ increasing appetite for ethanol, a carbon-neutral biofuel derived from corn that can be used as a gasoline additive or as E85, a gasoline alternative in automotive engines. Dead zones form when vast swaths of ocean water are inundated with nitrogen-based fertilizers—such as those used to grow corn in states along the Mississippi River (which empties into the Gulf). Marine life cannot survive in dead zones, and Gulf fishermen are now forced further and further offshore to net marketable catches. Experts estimate that the Gulf dead zone now stretches across some 7,900 square miles.
“We might be coming close to a tipping point,” says Matt Rota, director of the water resources program for the nonprofit Gulf Restoration Network. “The ecosystem might change or collapse as opposed to being just impacted.”Just as environmentalists were starting to make some headway convincing farmers in states along the Mississippi River to grow crops less dependent on nitrogen fertilizers, the price of corn doubled due to ethanol demand. Environmentalists are lobbying the federal government to step in and provide subsidies for farmers to use less nitrogen-based fertilizer, but such requests have been ignored by decision makers more concerned with boosting the economy than protecting marine ecosystems. And with the Bush administration making a big push to increase ethanol production over the next decade, a full-blown fisheries crisis might be inevitable.