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Environment: Is the Gulf of Mexico resilient to oil spills?

Research suggests role of bacteria has been underestimated

One of the impacted corals with attached brittle starfish. Although the orange tips on some branches of the coral is the color of living tissue, it is unlikely that any living tissue remains on this animal. PHOTO COURTESY Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER and BOEMR.

Some of oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster coated and killed deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico, but a large quantity may have been consumed by oil-eating bacteria.  Photo courtesy Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER and BOEMR.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Nearly three years after the Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded and the busted Macondo Well spewed millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are still trying to figure out to what happened to all the oil.

Only a tiny amount was captured or burned at the surface, and vast quantity — nobody knows exactly how much — was “dispersed” with chemicals injected directly into the stream of oil streaming out of the broken pipes, but a surprisingly large percentage of the oil may have been broken down by microbes. Continue reading

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Environment: Deepwater Horizon disaster may have caused a ‘dirty blizzard’ in the Gulf of Mexico

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A NASA satellite image shows the widespread sheen of oil spreading across the Gulf of Mexico after the April 2010 failure of the Deepwater Horizon drilling operation.

Researchers try to trace fate of BP oil in the Gulf of Mexico

By Summit Voice

FRISCO—It’s been nearly three years since BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drilling operation spewed millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, but scientists are still looking for signs of long-term impacts and trying to understand how the oil affected Gulf ecosystems.

One of the biggest questions remaining is exactly what happened to all the oil — about 5 million barrels. Along with a tiny percentage that was physically cleaned up, most studies suggest that much of the oil was processed by bacteria, or simply broken down into constituent molecules, but none of the studies have been able to account for the entire amount. Continue reading

Environment: More Gulf restoration projects coming online

Northern Gulf of Mexico beaches will get some TLC this coming summer as part of the ongoing restoration work in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Northern Gulf of Mexico beaches will get some TLC this coming summer as part of the ongoing restoration work in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Sea turtle and bird habitat improvements planned in Florida, Mississippi and Alabama

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — More restoration projects — valued at about $9 million — to repair damage from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster are set to begin in the next months along the beaches of the Florida panhandle, Mississippi and Alabama, including habitat improvements for nesting sea turtles and seabirds.

The work is part of the second phase of early restoration projects being organized by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees. Altogether, BP will fund $1 billion in early restoration projects.

“These additional projects are important steps in recovering from the oil spill, but they, along with the other Phase I projects, are just first steps,” said Trudy D. Fisher, Chair of the NRDA Trustee Council and Mississippi’s trustee. “Use of the early restoration funding has not moved quickly enough to suit any of us. I want to stress that the NRDA trustees are working hard to see that restoration funding is used in a way that is in the best interest of our natural resources.” Continue reading

Environment: Traces of Deepwater Horizon oil cause deformities, swimming deficiencies in Gulf fish

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An explosion and subsequent fire on BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico led to the biggest oil spill on recornd in U.S. coastal waters. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.

Study shows that sunlight intensifies the impacts of PAHs

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — In yet another sign that BP’s spilled Deepwater Horizon may have long-lasting impacts on Gulf ecosystems, a team of researchers said last week that even low-level, short-term exposure to traces of oil remnants causes deformities and impairs the swimming ability of fish.

The research was led by scientists with the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. The school is a leader in the field of marine toxicology and used a state of the art hatchery to study the effect of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on various species of fish, including cobia and mahi mahi.

PAH’s are toxic components of oil that are released from oil into the water column. The team also studied the effects of photo-enhanced toxicity, or the impact of sunlight on the potency of the toxic compounds found in the oil from the DWH spill.

A previous study by Smith University scientists showed similar impacts to fish during  embryonic stages of development.

“We found that in more sensitive species the photo-enhanced toxicity could account for up to a 20-fold higher sensitivity,” said Dr. Martin Grosell, professor and associate dean of graduate studies for the Rosenstiel School. “This is an important part of the equation because it means that traditional toxicity testing performed under laboratory conditions will tend to underestimate the toxicity that might have occurred in the natural environment under the influence of sunlight,” he added. Continue reading

Environment: New study shows dispersant makes oil up to 52 times more toxic to Gulf of Mexico microorganisms

Small grazers at the base of the food chain most directly affected

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Followup studies after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill call into question the extensive use of chemical dispersants. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The massive amounts of oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after BP’s Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded was devastating to marine life, but the dispersant used in the aftermath to try and break down the oil slicks may have been even worse for some species, according to new research done by scientists with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Based on laboratory toxicity tests, the study found that the oil-dispersant mix was up to 52 times more toxic to tiny rotifers, microscopic grazers at the base of the Gulf’s food chain.

The researchers tested a mix oil from the spill and Corexit, the dispersant required by the Environmental Protection Agency for clean up, on five strains of rotifers. Rotifers have long been used by ecotoxicologists to assess toxicity in marine waters because of their fast response time, ease of use in tests and sensitivity to toxicants. Continue reading

BP hit with $4.5 billion fine for Gulf oil spill

Company accepts criminal responsibility for 2010 disaster

A NASA satellite captures an image of a swirling oil slick from BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After spending more than $14 billion on the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP will pay another $4.5 billion in penalties under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the biggest fine ever levied by the department.

Federal officials said they will also pursue gross negligence charges under the Clean Water Act, which could result in up to $20 billion in additional fines, ranging up to $4,300 per barrel of spilled oil.

The explosion killed 11 workers on the drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico and sent millions of gallons of crude oil spewing into the water, damaging fisheries, smearing beaches and wetlands and squelching tourism in the region for months. Followup studies have shown that oil remnants may affect Gulf ecosystems for years to come. Continue reading

Study: Oil from Deepwater Horizon disaster killed marsh plants, accelerated coastal erosion

March ecosystems also helped prevent more extensive damage by blocking oil

The oil slick from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster rotates slowly in the Gulf of Mexico.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster killed off salt marsh plants up to 30 feet away from the shoreline along the Gulf Coast, resulting in a doubling erosion rates along some beaches in the area, to more than 10 feet per year of lost shoreline.

“Louisiana is already losing about a football field worth of wetlands every hour, and that was before the spill,” said Brian Silliman, a University of Florida biologist and lead author of a new study that examined the oil spill impacts.

“When grasses die from heavy oiling, their roots, that hold the marsh sediment together, also often die. By killing grasses on the marsh shoreline, the spill pushed erosion rates on the marsh edge to more than double what they were before. Because Louisiana was already experiencing significant erosive marsh loss due to the channelization of the Mississippi, this is a big example of how multiple human stressors can have additive effects,” Silliman said. Continue reading

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