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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

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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

Environment: New Gulf oil leases challenged in court

A massive oil slick from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster spreads across the northern Gulf of Mexico, visible in this NASA satellite image as a sheen on the surface.

Conservation coalition says feds are ignoring painful lessons of Deepwater Horizon oil disaster

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — New deep water drilling plans in the Gulf of Mexico won’t go forward without a legal test, as a coalition of environmental groups last week challenged the Department of Interior’s decision to proceed with new permits without fully addressing the risks to wildlife and the environment.

While drilling regulators believe they have developed a robust new set of safety and environmental regulations, the conservation community thinks otherwise, claiming in the lawsuit that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management dismissed the lessons learned during the Deepwater Horizon disaster and failed to obtain essential information about the status of species and resources still suffering from the 2010 oil spill. Continue reading

Environment: Deepwater oil disaster radically altered microbial communities on Gulf Coast beaches

Oil from BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drill rig and the Macondo well spread across the ocean in May 2010. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Followup research will determine how long the impacts last

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Biologists said they were shocked by the dramatic changes they observed in microbial communities along Gulf of Mexico beaches after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

The study led by by scientists from University of New Hampshire’s Hubbard Center for Genome Studies, sampled sites around Dauphin Island, Ala., and Grand Isle, La., just after the Deepwater Horizon spill began but before oil reached the shore, then again several months later, in September 2010. Continue reading

Gulf oil spill: It could’ve been … worse?

Freshwater ‘bulge’ from the Mississippi River may have kept some oil away from the Gulf Coast

A NASA satellite image shows the Deepwater Horizon oil slick spreading across a huge section of the northern Gulf of Mexico.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster that fouled huge stretches of the northern Gulf Coast could have hit the coast even harder but for the mighty Mississippi, according to geoscientists with the University of Pennsylvania, who said in a new study that pulses of freshwater from the river helped keep some of the oil offshore.

According to Douglas Jerolmack, the force of the Mississippi River emptying into the Gulf of Mexico created mounds of freshwater which pushed some of the oil slick off shore. The results of the study could help responders during future oil disasters decide where to focus preventive and cleanup efforts during the immediate response.

Jerolmack said he decided to do the study after noticing a disconnect between daily forecasts of where the oil movement and the locations where it actually ended up. The problem, he said, was that the models were based on looking the movement of the oil based primarily on known ocean currents, while not considering all the other factors that could affect the incoming pollution.

Other follow-up studies show that the oil continues to have profound effects on Gulf ecoysystems, including elevated levels of metals in oysters, and toxic effects on marine mammals and fish. Continue reading

Environment: Oil from Deepwater Horizon spill causes serious developmental and sensory defects in fish

‘The oil is not gone yet. This disaster is not over. There are embryos right now that are still getting exposed to that oil.’


The Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform after the April 2010 explosion. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster causes very specific and potentially lethal defects in fish, including heart problems and loss of facial cartilage.

The oil also prevents fish from swimming away from danger, probably because of damage to sensory neurons, according to a study published this week in BioMed Central’s open access journal BMC Biology.

In a controlled lab setting, Dr. Michael Barresi and his students at Smith University in Massachusetts exposed zebrafish (a common freshwater fish often found in aquariums) to concentrations of oil that probably still exist at similar levels in the gulf today, two years after the Macondo Well spewed millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf. Continue reading

Environment: Some Gulf of Mexico beaches are still contaminated with a toxic sludge of oil and dispersant

Research show that carcinogenic oil-related PAH compounds are easily absorbed through skin

A beach along Cape San Blas, Florida, where researchers sampled the swash zone for contaminated weathered tar product mixed with dispersant. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

New research in Florida shows contaminated oil product accumulating in the swash zone of Gulf beaches. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, beaches along the northern Gulf of Mexico coastline are far from being clean, says University of South Florida researcher James “Rip” Kirby, who recently documented accumulations of remnant oil with “scary high” concentrations of carcinogenic oil-related compounds. Download the full report or a summary at the Surfrider website.

In fact, the weathered tar product from crude oil dispersed with Corexit were found to have PAH concentrations consistently in excess of limits set to identify danger to life and health — IDHL limits, as defined by NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration.

In all, 32 sites were sampled; only three were free of PAH contamination. Samples at 26 of the sites exceeded the IDHL limits. Testing was done at beaches between Waveland, Miss. and Cape San Blas, Fla. Continue reading

Gulf oysters tainted with heavy metals from oil spill

Caption: Oyster shells like this one, collected from the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have been shown to contain higher concentrations of three heavy metals common in crude oil -- vanadium, cobalt, and chromium -- than specimens collected before the spill.
Credit: California Academy of Sciences

Researchers denied access to pure samples of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — BP’s oil continues to have toxic after-effects two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster spewed millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists tracking the long-term impacts have found devastated corals on the sea floor, sick dolphins in coastal areas and most recently, heavy metal contamination in Gulf oysters linked to the oil.

“While there is still much to be done as we work to evaluate the impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the Gulf’s marine food web, our preliminary results suggest that heavy metals from the spill have impacted one of the region’s most iconic primary consumers and may affect the food chain as a whole,” said Dr. Peter Roopnarine, of the California Academy of Sciences.

Roopnarine has detected evidence that pollutants from the oil have entered the ecosystem’s food chain. For the past two years, the team has been studying oysters (Crassostrea virginica) collected both before and after the Deepwater Horizon oil reached the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida. Continue reading

Grim outlook for dolphins exposed to BP oil in Gulf

Critical hormones affected in almost half the marine mammals studied

A bottlenose dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —The scope of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was so unprecedented that biologists weren’t sure what they would find when they started investigating dolphin health in Barataria Bay, off the coast of Louisiana.

What they did find was disturbing. Many dolphins are underweight and anemic, have low blood sugar and suffers symptoms of liver and lung disease, NOAA researchers said last week. Nearly half of the 32 dolphins studied also have abnormally low levels of hormones that help with stress response, metabolism and immune function.

“This was truly an unprecedented event – there was little existing data that would indicate what effects might be seen specifically in dolphins (or other cetaceans) exposed to oil for a prolonged period of time,” Dr. Lori Schwacke said via email. “However, there have been experimental studies of health effects in another mammal (mink) exposed to oil over several months, and the health issues that we see in these dolphins are consistent with the adverse effects seen in the mink studies,” she said. Continue reading

Corals damaged by Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Deep sea research mission documents extensive impacts

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.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Deep-sea research in the Gulf of Mexico has confirmed that oil from BP’s failed Macondo Well and Deepwater Horizon drilling rig had a serious impact on coral ecosystems miles away from the source of the oil.

“These biological communities in the deep Gulf of Mexico are separated from human activity at the surface by 4,000 feet of water,” said Penn State University Professor of Biology Charles Fisher. “We would not expect deep-water corals to be impacted by a typical oil spill, but the sheer magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its release at depth make it very different from a tanker running aground and spilling its contents. Because of the unprecedented nature of the spill, we have learned that its impacts are more far reaching than those arising from smaller spills that occur on the surface.”

The failed well leaked an estimated 160 million gallons of oil into the sea in the spring and summer of 2010. An early survey of nine sites more than 12 miles from the Macondo Well  found deep-water coral communities unharmed. But a followup dive by a remotely operated submarine about six miles southwest of the spill discovered numerous coral communities covered in a brown flocculent material and showing signs of tissue damage. Continue reading


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