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Environment: More signs of coral damage from BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster

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Coral reefs miles away from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster were afffected by the spill.

Ecological footprint of oil spill spread farther than previously believed

Staff Report

FRISCO — Oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster soiled seafloor corals more than 12 miles from the spill site, Penn State University researchers said after doing a detailed survey of the area.

“The footprint of the impact of the spill on coral communities is both deeper and wider than previous data indicated,” said Penn State biology professor Charles Fisher. “This study very clearly shows that multiple coral communities, up to 22 kilometers from the spill site and at depths over 1800 meters, were impacted by the spill,” Fisher said.

The oil from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico has largely dissipated, so other clues now are needed to identify marine species impacted by the spill. Fisher’s team used the current conditions at a coral community known to have been impacted by the spill in 2010 as a model “fingerprint” for gauging the spill’s impact in newly discovered coral communities. Continue reading

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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

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

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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

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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

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

Sea-bottom ecosystems hit by 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster could take decades to recover

Study finds extensive loss of biodiversity

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.

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

FRISCO — It will probably take decades for the sea-bottom ecosystem to recover from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, researchers reported this week in the journal PLoS One, after finding that the spill affected sea-bottom biodiversity across 57 square miles around the wellhead, with the most severe impacts in a nine-square mile area.

Previous studies had also shown that the oil spill had damaging effects on deep-sea corals miles from the blown out Macondo Well. 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.

“The tremendous biodiversity of meiofauna in the deep-sea area of the Gulf of Mexico we studied has been reduced dramatically,” said Jeff Baguley,  University of Nevada, Reno expert on small invertebrates livING in both marine and fresh water. “Nematode worms have become the dominant species at sites we sampled that were impacted by the oil. So though the overall number of meiofauna may not have changed much, it’s that we’ve lost the incredible biodiversity.” Continue reading

Environment: Researchers still tracking oil leaks from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico

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A massive slick from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill spreads across the Gulf of Mexico in July 2010. Photo courtesy NASA.

Oil ‘fingerprinting’ technique shows the oil is likely from the wreckage of the sunken drill rig

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Chemical fingerprints show that oil sheens in the Gulf of Mexico are probably from pockets of oil trapped within the wreckage of the sunken Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Both the Macondo well and natural oil seeps common to the Gulf of Mexico were confidently ruled out by researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of California, Santa Barbara. The study was published online this week in Environmental Science & Technology.

The oil sheens were first reported to the United States Coast Guard by BP in mid-September 2012, raising public concern that the Macondo well, which was capped in July 2010, might be leaking.

“It was important to determine where the oil was coming from because of the environmental and legal concerns around these sheens. First, the public needed to be certain the leak was not coming from the Macondo well, but beyond that we needed to know the source of these sheens and how much oil is supplying them so we could define the magnitude of the problem,” said WHOI chemist Chris Reddy. 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

Agreement protects Gulf of Mexico marine mammals

Feds, oil companies agree to some limits on seismic airgun testing

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Marine mammals like coastal bottlenose dolphins will get some relief from seismic airgun blasting in the Gulf of Mexico. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Whales, dophins and other marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico will enjoy a little more peace and quiet under a new agreement that limits seismic airgun testing.

Under the deal, oil companies and the federal government will make some biologically important areas off-limits to testing. The agreement will also expand protection to additional at-risk species, and require the use of listening detection devices to better ensure surveys do not injure endangered sperm whales. Continue reading

Morning photo: Waves

Seashore thrills …

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A gentle Gulf of Mexico breaker rolls ashore under a setting sun.

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Living in the small side-house to the barn-like fog signal building at Pt. Montara, California gave me a deep appreciation of ocean waves.

FRISCO — In the early 1980s I lived at the Pt. Montara Lighthouse, about 20 miles south of San Francisco. While we renovated the Victorian lighthouse keeper’s quarters, I stayed in the watchroom of the fog signal building, just 10 yards from the edge of a bluff overlooking a rocky headland that juts far into the Pacific. As it turned out, the first winter I lived there was a big El Niño year. Endless storms crashed ashore from November through May, coating my oceanfront window with salt spray and, at times, making the cliffs shake. It’s hard to describe the size and scope of these breakers, but if you’ve seen the movie “Chasing Mavericks,” it’ll give you an idea of the 30- to 40-foot walls of water that were commonplace that year. I already was a big fan of waves before that, but the experience gave me a whole new appreciation for the power of the sea. I don’t have any digital images of that winter, but I probably do have some old slides tucked away in a shoebox. I was tempted to try and find them, but I’ll save that for another time. Continue reading

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