BP Oil Disaster–Where is the oil?

Yesterday we reported the official estimate  that almost 5 million barrels of oil have been released into the gulf, yet, everyone seems to be asking the same question: Where did it all go?  A couple of interesting sources are available to address this quandary.

First, a Louisiana based television station took a camera and reporter out to a barrier island to investigate reports of oil beneath the sand. The beaches appeared clean, however, just walking in the sand provided hints to the trouble below as oil oozed up in the footprints, and many dead sand crabs littered the beach.

Secondly, another blog written by the University of Georgia Department of Marine Science, simply entitled “Gulf Oil Blog” also asked the question:  Where has the oil gone?  Their Aug. 1 blog posting attempts to quash rumors that the oil has just magically evaporated and/or been eaten by microorganisms. From that posting:

Should we be relieved?  Is this disaster over?

On the whole, I believe the answer to both questions is no.  It is a relief that the volume of surface oil is reduced, as this lowers the probability of oil-fouling of coastal beaches and marshes.  However, it’s likely that a great deal of oil is still out there in the Gulf of Mexico’s waters, it’s just no longer visible to us.

While some of the oil has most certainly evaporated, much of it was dispersed and this oil is still floating around, invisible to our eyes, within the ocean’s water column.   Some of the oil has probably sedimented to the seafloor, where it is also invisible to our eyes.  The fact that this oil is “invisible” makes it no less of a danger to the Gulf’s fragile ecosystems.  Quite the contrary, the danger is real and the danger is much more difficult to quantify, track and assess.

The Gulf Oil Blog also addresses the question of how to determine the long-term impacts from all of the dispersants used in this response. Although official tests have pointed to no more toxicity than oil alone (per yesterday’s EPA report), some scientists seem to be unconvinced. This Huffington Post article, originally posted on July 29 is entitled: “Scientist Find Evidence that Dispersant Mix are Making Their Way into the Food Chain“. The scientist they quote are from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory and Tulane University.

Clearly there is much to learn, and this disaster will be with us for many years to come.

Thanks again to Claire for letting me blog, Kim.

BP Oil Spill–New Spill Estimates: almost 5 million barrels

New spill estimates released August 2 suggest that 4.9 million barrels of oil (give or take 10%), or 205,000,000 gallons have been released from the Deepwater Horizon oil well.  Of that, they estimate that about 16%, or 800,000 barrels (33.6 million gallons) has been captured. For comparisons sake, the Exxon Valdez spilled 750,000 barrels (31.5 million gallons), and this spill now exceeds the former-largest spill, the 1979  Ixtoc I, which released 140,000,000 gallons.  How they achieved this new estimate is described on the  Deepwater Horizon Unified Command page:

The installation of a new containment cap and the subsequent well integrity testing procedure provided the opportunity to calculate the flow by measuring the pressure at the top of the well as the choke and kill valves were manipulated after the main containment valve was closed to trap hydrocarbons.

Also of interest on the Deepwater Unified Command page was the EPA’s release of the results from toxicity testing on “mixtures of eight oil dispersants with Louisiana Sweet Crude Oil.” The result: “dispersant-oil mixtures are generally no more toxic to the aquatic test species than oil alone.” A link is provided on their page to the tests results.

On other note, the spill is having an impact as far north as Canada. According to the Ontario Star newspaper, as fall approaches the issue of migratory birds that winter in the Gulf Coast region has come into focus. Of major concern are white pelicans, which just came off the endangered species list, but many other birds could be “flying to their demise”. This is impacting many segments of Canadian society:

Scientists aren’t the only ones concerned about the impact the spill may have on Canada’s migratory birds. Aboriginal groups who have for centuries hunted ducks, geese and other waterfowl to feed their families are urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama to get involved.

The article mentions a program established by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service which has set up the “Migratory Bird Habitat Initiate” in an effort to mitigate this problem. They are paying farmers in portions of eight states to flood their fields in order to “enhance habitat for migratory birds”.

The Diva will be back from vacation tomorrow. Claire, thanks for letting me stand in for you!

Guest Blogger, Kim Stephens

Oil Spill Disaster – Day 100 – issues re science research

The issue of the sharing of scientific findings is discussed in the July 27 in a Washington Post opinion piece titled Research on gulf oil spill shouldn’t take a backseat to litigation. Plus the article raises a new topic, that of the need for a comprehensive and strategic look at the research needed for such a major disaster event; I would argue both hard science and social science research should be included in such a comprehensive plan.

Our nation needs a comprehensive science plan to learn from and respond better to this tragedy. Those working in academia, federal and state government, nongovernmental organizations, and industry need to be consulted and included. The federal government must also make funding available, apart from the NRDA process, to enable independent, peer-reviewed science to be undertaken.

Also related to the topic is a recent statement by the American Assoc. of University Professors regard BP’s impact on academic freedom following the Gulf oil spill. See attached file titled  ACADEMIC FREEDOM.  One quote from that statement follows:

Perhaps this is the time to reexamine the increasing role corporations are playing in funding and controlling university research. Universities should work with faculty to set ethical standards for industry collaboration that champion the public interest and discourage faculty members from selling their freedom of speech and research to the highest bidder.

Thanks to Bill Cumming for bringing this statement to my attention. It is a timely addition to the topic discussed in today’s post.

CNN has posted an interesting summary of the effects, on the 100 day anniversary of the spill. See this article. And CNN also has posted some dramatic graphics of the spill since day 1.

Oil Spill Disaster — Update on June 22

In the interest of giving all sides of the issue some air time, see Heritage Foundation report titled Stopping the Slick, Saving the Environment: A Framework for Response, Recovery and Resiliency; June 15.  Some good points in here.  But I see only an indirect reference to the possible use of a Presidential Disaster Declaration under the Stafford Act, and no listing of the Ixtoc Oil Spill in their list list of the 10 worst spills to date.

From the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Group, formed in 1989 after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, suggestions re useful resources for researchers and community groups. This is a useful, practical source of information.

One more call for Presidential action, in the style of Post 9//11:
Clean the Gulf, Clean House, Clean Their Clock, NYT 9/20, by Frank Rich

In this 9/11, it’s not just the future of the gulf coast, energy policy or his presidency that’s in jeopardy. What’s also being tarred daily by the gushing oil is the very notion that government can accomplish anything. The current crisis in that faith predates this disaster.

Rich also cites “…a scathing account of Obama’s own Interior Department by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone.” See The Spill, the Scandal, and the President (June 24, 2010). This is a detailed account of problems at MMS and Interior under both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

Oil Spill – June 12 – anxiety about effects of spilled oil

BP told to step up containment, WSJ, June 12.

The U.S. has given BP PLC two days to devise a more aggressive plan for containing oil leaking from its damaged deepwater well into the Gulf of Mexico, as tension surrounding the spill grows.

It appears that the Administration and the On Scene Coordinator are applying some pressure to BP to do more and do it faster to deal with effects of the oil spill.