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4 years after Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, dispersant still found lingering in the environment

Study looks at concentrations of oil and dispersant in ‘sand patties’ found along the Gulf Coast

32 beaches were sampled, with contamination found at 26 sites. MAP COURTESY JAMES "RIP" KIRBY, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA.

In 2012, University of South Florida scientists found oil remnants all along the Gulf Coast, often at levels that pose a potential risk to human health. MAP COURTESY JAMES “RIP” KIRBY, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA.

New research in Florida shows

The mess from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is still not completely cleaned up.

Read more Summit Voice stories about dispersants and the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill here.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Fossil fuel companies involved in offshore oil drilling may have to rethink their emergency response plans for oil spills after a new study showed that dispersant used to prevent large slicks persists in the environment much longer than previously thought.

Scientists at Haverford College and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has found that the dispersant compound DOSS, which decreases the size of oil droplets and hampers the formation of large oil slicks, remains associated with oil and can persist in the environment for up to four years.

The EPA approved the use of massive quantities of dispersant after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in hopes of preventing oil from fouling beaches, reasoning that the chemicals degrade rapidly. The Deepwater oil spill was the largest ever, releasing at least 210 million gallons of oil. BP applied almost 2 million gallons of dispersant, much of it deep beneath the surface.

But it’s far from clear that the use of dispersant is an overall environmental benefit. Ongoing studies have shown that the mixture of dispersant and oil is far more toxic to many marine organisms than either substance on its own. For example, a study by scientists with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes, Mexico showed 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. Continue reading

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Environment: Deepwater Horizon blowout may have released 250,000 tons of natural gas into the atmosphere


The massive Deepwater Horizon oll spill spreads a sheen across a huge section of the Gulf of Mexico in May 2010. Photo courtesy NASA.

Findings show value of long-term post-spill monitoring

Staff Report

FRISCO — Methane-munching microbes in the Gulf of Mexico may have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of gas released during the 84-day Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010.

“Most of the gas injected into the Gulf was methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change, so we were naturally concerned that this potent greenhouse gas could escape into the atmosphere,” said University of Georgia researcher Samantha Joye.” Many assumed that methane-oxidizing microbes would simply consume the methane efficiently, but our data suggests that this isn’t what happened.” Continue reading

Environment: Study shows how Deepwater Horizon oil spill causes heart defects in Gulf of Mexico fish


A recreational angler starts processing a tuna from the Gulf of Mexico at a port in Venice, Louisiana. A new study shows how crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill causes heart defects in embryonic fish. bberwyn photo.

‘This spill occurred in prime bluefin spawning habitats, and the new evidence indicates a compromising effect of oil on the physiology and morphology of bluefin embryos and larvae’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After a series of post-spill studies in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s clear that the massive amount of crude that spewed into the water from BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drilling rig had an enormous impact on marine life, and a new research effort led by federal scientists and academic researchers may confirm some of the worst fears.

Exposure to the oil, even at very low concentrations, resulted in severe defects in the developing hearts of bluefin and yellowfin tunas, commercially important species, according to the findings published  in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, show how the largest marine oil spill in United States history may have affected tunas and other species that spawned in oiled offshore habitats in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Continue reading

Environment: New report takes a broader look the ecological impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster

Wider ecosystem services must be considered in damage assessments

Satellite view deepwater horizon oil spill

BP oil from the Deepwater Horizon drill rig spreads across the northern Gulf of Mexico.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The total impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico can’t be quantified without accounting for how the spill affected ecosystem services provided by the Gulf. That includes trying to quantify the cost of increased storm damage due to wetlands losses, according to a new report from the National Research Council.

But a lack of baseline data about ecological conditions, as well as  an incomplete understanding of complex ecosystem interactions make establishing the full scope of damage difficult.

Capturing the entire range of impacts will also require more data on human and economic factors. The report emphasizes that many services may have enormous value despite being difficult to measure, and that such services should be given adequate consideration in evaluating restoration options. Continue reading

New evidence that dispersants are bad news for fish

Detailed study shows that fish exposed to oil-dispersant mix are less able to respond to subsequent environmental challenges


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 — A new European study once again shows that using dispersants to treat oil spills can be bad news for many marine organisms, even as it prevents massive slicks from reaching the shoreline.

The results of the study will be presented formally at the July 6 meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology meeting in Valencia. The increased contamination under the water reduces the ability for fish and other organisms to cope with subsequent environmental challenges, the research team found.

Led by professor Guy Claireaux, of the University of Brest,  the biologists for the first time looked at the effects of chemically dispersed oil on the performance of European seabass to subsequent environmental challenges. Continue reading

Summit Voice: Week in review & most-viewed stories

Atmospheric CO2 now at 400 parts per million - how high will it go?

Atmospheric CO2 now at 400 parts per million – how high will it go?

Oil spill, climate and weather stories top the list

FRISCO — Out story on lingering Deepwater Horizon oil spill impacts to Gulf of Mexico aquatic ecosystems got a lot of social media love to become the most-viewed story of the week, while local weather, marked by a series of wet spring storms, also garnered reader attention. Also of note, two Summit Voice photo essays, as well as a guest post by Stan Wagon, also cracked the top 10 list:

A few more stories worth reading from the past week:


Environment: Study finds lingering impacts from Gulf oi spill

 UC Davis scientist Andrew Whitehead collects fish at a field site in May 2010, weeks after the April Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A 2013 study he co-authored shows killifish at oil-impacted sites continue to develop health defects, three years after the spill. Credit: Pat Sullivan

UC Davis scientist Andrew Whitehead collects fish at a field site in May 2010, weeks after the April Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A 2013 study he co-authored shows killifish at oil-impacted sites continue to develop health defects, three years after the spill. Photo courtesy Pat Sullivan.

Fish embryos exposed to oil show developmental abnormalities

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —Small fish living in coastal Louisiana waters were sickened by crude oil toxicity for more than a year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to researchers from Lousiana, California and South Carolina.

Oil collected from the spill in 2011 continues to show toxic effects in the lab, suggesting there’s a risk of multi-generational exposure, according to Andrew Whitehead, a University of California, Davis, scientist who co-authored the study of killifish, considered an indicator species for coastal ecosystems.

Killifish embryos exposed to sediments from oiled locations in 2010 and 2011 show developmental abnormalities, including heart defects, delayed hatching and reduced hatching success. Continue reading

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


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


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


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