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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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Report: U.S. ill equipped to handle Arctic oil spill

Shell Oil's Arctic drill rig, Kulluk, stranded near Kodiak Island, Alaska

A runaway oil drill rig hinted at the extreme challenges facing oil companies in the Arctic. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.

More resources needed to FRISCO — A new report from the National Research Council suggests that there aren’t nearly enough resources in place to respond to an oil spill in the Arctic. The absence of adequate infrastructure is a significant liability in the event of a large oil spill, the study found, suggesting that an expanded U.S. Coast Guard presence and pre-positioning of key equipment would bolster an effective response.

The study comes as global warming makes the Arctic more accessible to commercial activities like shipping, oil and gas development, and tourism, raising concerns about the increase potential for oil spills. The Arctic poses several challenges to oil spill response, including extreme weather and environmental settings, limited operations and communications infrastructure, a vast geographic area, and vulnerable species, ecosystems, and cultures.  Continue reading

Have sea otters recovered from the Exxon Valdez spill?

 Monitoring shows populations have returned to pre-spill numbers

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Sea otter in kelp. Photo by Benjamin Weitzman, U.S. Geological Survey.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It took almost quarter of a century, but federal scientists say that sea otters have recovered to pre-spill population numbers in the most heavily oiled areas of Prince William Sound, where the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989, spilling tens of millions of gallons of oil.

“Although recovery timelines varied widely among species, our work shows that recovery of species vulnerable to long-term effects of oil spills can take decades,” said lead author of the study, Brenda Ballachey, research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “For sea otters, we began to see signs of recovery in the years leading up to 2009, two decades after the spill, and the most recent results from 2011 to 2013 are consistent with recovery as defined by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.”

Several thousand otters died in the immediate aftermath of the spill, and recovery was slow. Scientists monitoring the area say chronic exposure to oil remnants likely hampered recovery. Other studies documented persistence of oil in the sea otter’s intertidal feeding habitats. 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

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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 — 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

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: Drill rig runs aground on Alaskan island

A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Jayhawk helicopter crew delivers personnel to the conical drilling unit Kulluk, southeast of Kodiak, Alaska, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. Response crews have been fighting severe weather in the Gulf of Alaska while working with the Kulluk and its tow vessel Aiviq. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Jayhawk helicopter crew delivers personnel to the conical drilling unit Kulluk, southeast of Kodiak, Alaska, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. Response crews have been fighting severe weather in the Gulf of Alaska while working with the Kulluk and its tow vessel Aiviq. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Shell Oil struggling with keeping control off its Arctic oil drilling equipment

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — While pressing ahead with plans for offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, Shel Oil has been unable to maintain control of its equipment. In the latest accident, one of the company’s oil drilling ships ran aground New Year’s Eve on the southeast shoreline of Sitkalidak Island, about 250 miles south of Anchorage.

The Kulluk was part of the Shell’s test drilling program last summer. According to the company, the vessel was loaded with about 139,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 12,000 gallons of other oil-based drilling and mechanical fluids. 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

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