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Study: Exposure to crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster causes swimming deficiencies in juvenile mahi mahi

Evidence is mounting that BP’s oil harmed millions of large fish

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Crude oil spreads across a wide swath of the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

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By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with fouling beaches and wetlands along the Gulf Coast, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill also had profound impacts on the open ocean and deep sea environment. The four million barrels of crude oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s failed oil drilling operation potentially exposed millions of fish and other ocean organisms to highly toxic compounds.

That includes many commercially and ecologically important open-ocean fish species such as bluefin and yellowfin tunas, mahi mahi, king and Spanish mackerels. In one of the most recent followup studies on the impacts of the spill, researchers with the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science found that exposure to the crude oil resulted in decreased swimming performance in young mahi mahi. Continue reading

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Study documents ‘heartbreak’ after Gulf oilspill

Former Breckenridge resident Andy Cook, who owned and operated Ma's Po Boy restaurant on Park Avenue, cleans a yellowfin tuna he caught in the rich fishing waters near the mouth of the Mississippi River, just off Venice, Louisiana.

Former Breckenridge resident Andy Cook cleans a yellowfin tuna he caught in the rich fishing waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River near Venice, Louisiana. bberwyn photo.

Exposure to PAHs disrupts basic cellular function of heart muscles

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — When BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drill rig spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists immediately began documenting impacts to natural resources, finding dead corals on the seafloor, sick dolphins in Barataria Bay and remnant oil in the splash zone along Florida beaches.

Even low levels of oil pollution can damage the developing hearts of fish embryos and larvae, reducing the likelihood that those fish will survive. Scientists have known of this effect for some time, but the underlying mechanism has remained elusive.

But recent research by scientists with NOAA and Stanford University, shows how oil-derived chemicals disrupt the normal functioning of the heart muscle cells of fish. The findings, published in the Feb. 14 issue of Science, describe how toxic oil-based chemicals disrupt cardiac function in young bluefin and yellowfin tuna by blocking ion channels in their heart muscle cells. Continue reading

Environment: Dolphins hit by Deepwater Horizon spill are suffering from lung disease and hormone deficiencies

‘”I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals …”

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Oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster is making dolphins very ill.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Dolphins exposed to heavy doses of oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster are experiencing lung disease at five times the rate of dolphin populations in other areas, federal researchers reported in a new study published this week. The scientists also found that 25 percent of the Barataria Bay dolphins were significantly underweight and the population overall had very low levels of adrenal hormones, which are critical for responding to stress.

“I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals — and with unusual conditions such as the adrenal hormone abnormalities,” said lead author Dr. Lori Schacke, who announced similar findings in March 2012. Continue reading

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

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

New response model needed for deep water oil spills

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout spreads across the Gulf of Mexico in this NASA satellite image.

Scientists urge hard look at oil spill assumptions 

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Lack of previous experience in deep-water oil spills likely hampered the early response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, according to a panel of scientists who this week urged the federal government to reassess how it would respond to similar oil spills that might occur in the future.

The 22 researchers said the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill was unlike any other oil spill encountered previously. Although the well blowout occurred at unprecedented depths and released enormous quantities of oil (an estimated 4.9 million barrels or 206 million gallons), the response to cleanup and contain the oil was based on assumptions made from experience with surface spills. Continue reading

Opinion: House GOP renews energy witch hunt

Instead of focusing on the environmental damage done by fossil fuel extractions, Republicans in Congress are nitpicking about procedural reports related to oil and coal development.

Resources committee to consider issuing subpoenas on mining stream buffers, Gulf drilling moratorium

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —The radical anti-environmental leaders of the House Natural Resources Committee last week announced the latest chapter of their anti-Obama witch hunt, scheduling a March 28 full committee meeting to discuss possible subpoenas related to coal mining stream protections and a moratorium on Gulf of Mexico oil drilling.

At issue are two efforts by the Obama administration to raise environmental standards. To try and protect streams and riparian areas from the ravages of coal mining, the interior department set out to rewrite a stream buffer zone rule. Continue reading

Feds OK Shell’s emergency response plan for Arctic drilling

A NASA satellite view of the Alaska coastline and the Chukchi Sea.

Oil company commits to unprecedented safeguards to prevent an oil disaster in the Arctic, but will it be enough?

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Oil drilling in the frigid Arctic waters off Alaska could begin as early as June, after the Obama administration this week approved an emergency response plan proposed by Shell.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the response plan heeds the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The company was required to prepare a plan for a worst-case discharge nearly five times more than the amount envisioned by the previous plan, including a specific response for adverse weather conditions. The company’s new plan also includes equipment and strategies to respond to a loss of well control and a spill. Continue reading

Lawsuit challenges new Gulf of Mexico oil leasing

A U.S. Coast Guard photo shows firefighting ships battling flames on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Environmental groups say latest leasing plans ignore Deepwater Horizon lessons

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Conservation groups say federal government didn’t take its NEPA duties seriously when it approved a new lease sale in the western Gulf of Mexico. This week, the filed a lawsuit to try and force federal agencies to do a new environmental study that takes into account the widespread impacts of last year’s BP blowout.

“This is their first attempt to do new leases since the Deepwater Horizon disaster … and we think there are fundamental things missing throughout the Environmental Impact Statement, said Deirdre McDonnell, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program. Continue reading

Alaska oil-drilling plan draws immediate fire

Parts of the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea would be opened for oill drilling under an Obama administration plan announced this week.

Interior Department proposes 3 offshore Alaska lease sales and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Obama administration this week cautiously moved toward increased oil leasing, exploration and drilling in the Arctic Sea off the coast of Alaska, as well as more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2012-202 includes 12 potential lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three in Alaskan coastal waters. According to the announcement from the U.S. Department of Interior, the program makes available for exploration and development more than 75 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore. The draft Environmental Impact Statement is available here as a PDF document.

President Obama has been under enormous political pressure to develop more onshore and offshore domestic energy resources, with Republicans in Congress leading the charge as they advocate for increased drilling as a way to help the economy.

The proposed lease sales in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are scheduled late in the 5-year period to enable more scientific study and data collection, and longer term planning for spill response preparedness and infrastructure. The proposal is subject to a series of public hearings and maps are online here. Continue reading

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