Re: Gulf Oil Spill Reaches Land

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  • Sat, May 29, 2010 - 02:52pm

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    Re: Gulf Oil Spill Reaches Land

comprehensive overview of this disastrous event:

http://www.themudflats.net/2010/05/26/voices-from-the-flats-lessons-of-the-deepwater-horizon-disaster/

Besides the catastrophic damage to marine life and wetlands for decades upon decades to come, I found this part quite alarming:

 

Spill Response:

Something we have learned in every large marine oil spill around the world deserves repeating here — once oil is spilled, the battle is lost, and the damage is done.  Oil spill response and “cleanup” has never been effective, and a 10% recovery rate is considered a “successful” response by most experienced responders.  Indeed, “oil spill cleanup” is a pretentious façade, that has never worked effectively, and it seems to serve more of a palliative and public relations role.  And rehabilitating oiled wildlife and ecosystems is impossible, but must be tried.  The BP OSRP for the Gulf called for the deployment within 72 hours of response equipment capable of recovering over 450,000 barrels of oil per day, but obviously this didn’t happen.  The plan also called for attention to “walruses, sea otters, and sea lions” which of course do not occur in the region, indicating they simply cut-and-pasted parts of the Gulf oil spill plan from other regions, likely Alaska.  And the link provided for a list of equipment from their main response contractor – the Marine Spill Response Corporation – takes you instead to a comical Japanese home shopping network.

Although mechanical recovery of oil from the sea surface is the preferred method for all spill response, as it attempts to remove oil from the marine environment, it has been largely ineffective in this spill because the oil is so emulsified with sea water that its density is approximately the same as sea water, and mostly just sinks beneath the booms when contact is made. The sorbent booms along shorelines are collecting some of the oil before it reaches the shore, but the oil is still reaching the beaches.  From sand beaches, it is relatively easy cleanup task – remove the contaminated sand.  But as the oil enters the sensitive muddy wetland marshes along the north Gulf coast, it will not be possible to remove without causing more damage.  There may be opportunity to add fertilizers to enhance the indigenous bacteria community, to aid biodegradation of the oil in the marsh muds, but even this may be of limited help.

The chemical dispersants being used on the surface and at the blowout are a particular concern.  Never has there been such heavy use of chemical dispersant in any oil spill response.  The product being used – Corexit 9500 – is intended to break oil into smaller droplets in order to speed natural breakdown into harmless substances.  The problem is that the dispersant is itself toxic, the oil is even more toxic, and research has shown that the combination of the oil and dispersant is even more toxic than the sum of the individual toxicities alone – there is a synergistic toxicity.  Further, if the dispersant works as intended, it will simply transfer the impact from the sea surface down deeper into the water column, thereby exposing the upper water column biological community to more toxic contamination.   As the dispersed oil mixture is know to be very toxic, the cardinal rule in use of dispersants is to never use them in shallow water near shore as this would contaminate the productive sea bed communities.  In the Deepwater Horizon, the offshore surface waters contaminated with oil / dispersant have flowed up the continental shelf, and into shallow inshore estuaries, thereby contaminating the productive inshore habitat from surface to seabed.  Plus, if the dispersant is working as designed, it will make mechanical recovery from the sea surface virtually impossible.

The dispersant use at-depth at the blowout is a novel approach, having never been attempted before.  This use should only be allowed if it is conclusively shown that the oil droplet size exiting the jet plume from the blowout can be significantly reduced by the addition of the chemical dispersant.  I have asked both the U.S. NOAA and EPA for any data that show this, and at the time of writing, none have been provided.  In fact, to date EPA’s monitoring of dispersant and oil in water, sediment and air is all conducted near shore.

Further, when the Coast Guard and EPA ordered BP to find a less toxic dispersant on May 19, BP responded essentially “no.”   Their letter responding to the government directive contained a number of factual and typographical errors, and they missed any discussion of one dispersant – JD-2000 – that is not only far less toxic than Corexit and other products, but it is also far more effective on south Louisiana crude oil.  In response to BP’s “no”, the U.S. government simply said: ‘well OK, then please use less of the substandard product.’