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Study pinpoints threats to loggerhead sea turtles in Gulf

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Proposed critical habitat designations could help protect dwindling loggerhead sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.

Findings may help protect dwindling population

Staff Report

FRISCO — The beleaguered population of loggerhead sea turtles in the northern Gulf of Mexico feeds in areas affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill and where they are threatened by other human activities.

The feeding areas for 10 turtles overlapped with an area that experienced surface oiling during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These sites, and others, also overlapped with areas trawled by commercial fishing operations and used for oil and gas extraction, U.S. Geological Survey scientists said after tracking 59 nesting females. That could be about 15 percent of the entire breeding females in the Northern Gulf of Mexico—a small and declining subpopulation of loggerheads that is federally classified as threatened. Continue reading

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Oil-eating microbes in the Gulf of Mexico left behind the most toxic remnants of the Deepwater Horizon spill

Impacts likely to persist for decades

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Oil: Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Oil-eating microbes in the Gulf of Mexico may have helped break down some of the pollution from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, but some of the most toxic constituents of BP’s oil probably remain, most likely at the bottom of the sea.

Two new Florida State University studies in a deep sea oil plume found found that a species of bacteria called Colwellia likely consumed gaseous hydrocarbons and perhaps benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene compounds that were released as part of the oil spill — but not the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are a group of semi-volatile organic compounds that are present in crude oil and can cause long-term health problems such as cancer. Continue reading

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

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

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