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

U.S. Rep. Polis asks for congressional hearing on toxic spills after Colorado floods

State officials tracking numerous flood-related spills

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A Sept. 17 Landsat 8 image shows South Platte River flooding near Greeley, Colorado. For more information on this image, please visit this NASA Earth Observatory website.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A spate of potentially dangerous spills from oil and gas producing facilities resulting from recent flooding in Colorado may be scrutinized under a congressional spotlight.

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee Peter DeFazio (D-OR) hav asked the House Resources Committee to hold a hearing on oil and gas spills caused by the recent catastrophic floods in Colorado. 

“Not only have my constituents been dealing with damage to their homes, schools, and roads, they are increasingly concerned about the toxic spills that have occurred from the flooding of nearly 1,900 fracking wells in Colorado,” Polis said. “Congress must deal with this issue to ensure that natural disasters do not also become public health disasters.” 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

Colorado: USFS permits ‘Mad Max’ camp site at Officer’s Gulch

Logging company leaves numerous spills, damaged vegetation

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Fuel containers used by a logging crew at Officers Gulch have been leaking. So far, the cleanup has consisted of dumping sawdust on top of the spill. Bob Berwyn photo.

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Fuel leakage from a generator at Officers Gulch.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Forest Service officials with the Dillon Ranger District said they will investigate several small oil spills at a long-term logging camp at the abandoned campground at Officers Gulch.

The agency authorized the logging crew’s stay at the site, where several people lived in campers most of the winter and stored equipment and fuel. In one area, diesel fuel leakage from an old generator spilled off the pavement and into the forest and other spills of unknown materials are visible in the camping area.

In other places, numerous limbs were slashed off young lodgepole pines, presumably to give large trucks room to maneuver in and out. In other spots, snowplows used to clear access to the site in the winter uprooted willow bushes and broke down other trees. Continue reading

Environment: Draft federal plan for oil exploration off the Southeastern seaboard seen as flawed

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A new federal study could lead to new fossil fuel development in the Atlantic off the Southeast coast.

Impacts of seismic surveying to marine mammals a major concern

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Conservation groups say a draft federal plan authorizing oil exploration off the Eastern Seaboard doesn’t do enough to protect marine mammals — and they have support from a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers concerned about impacts to the economies of coastal communities.

At this stage, the issue is seismic testing with airguns to explore the ocean floor for potential oil deposits. The legislators from the U.S. House and Senate sent President Obama a letter urging him to reject the use of airguns.

According to a recent report from Oceana, an international ocean conservation group, the use of airguns for seismic surveying has widespread impacts on marine mammals, even at great distances.

“We are understanding more and more that the noise can disrupt entire populations,” said Oceana biologist Matthew Huelsenbeck, adding that the operations appear to planned in areas used by endangered northern right whales. Continue reading

Environment: Pipelines under scrutiny

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An oil pipeline in Alaska. Photo courtesy USGS.

Thirst for oil leads to inevitable disasters

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — With more than 2.6 million miles of pipeline criss-crossing the country, it seems almost inevitable that there will be breaks and spills. The only question is how serious the spill will be.

Right now, residents of Mayflower, Ark, will probably tell you that last year’s passage of the Pipeline Safety Act didn’t prevent their town from becoming the latest ground zero in a seemingly never-ending series of oil spill disasters.

The Pipeline Safety Act doubled the maximum civil penalties for pipeline safety violations from $100,000 to $200,000 and authorized an increase for the federal pipeline inspector workforce. Continue reading

Conservation groups request Arctic drilling moratorium

Arctic oil drilling Beaufort Sea

Sunset over the Beaufort Sea. Photo courtesy USGS.

Recent mishaps, lack of data cited in request for suspension of operations

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Citing huge data gaps about the basic ecology of the Arctic Ocean, as well as a string of recent accidents and near-misses in Royal Dutch Shell’s ongoing efforts to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, a coalition of environmental groups this week asked the Obama administration to suspend fossil fuel development in the region.

The letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar came just a few days after the Interior Department announced a 60-day assessment of the Arctic offshore drilling program.

In a press release, the groups said any investigation will show that oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean cannot be conducted now in a safe and responsible manner. Along with equipment issues, there are still unanswered questions about the ability to contain and clean up potential spills in the remote, harsh Arctic environment. Those questions remain despite the fact the federal government has already signed off on Shell’s emergency response plan. Continue reading

Lawsuit seeks more transparency on Arctic offshore drilling

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Are federal regulators prepared to manage an oil spill in the Arctic?

 

Oil spill containment and cleanup plans still sketchy

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — With Shell Oil aiming for spring oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, a government watchdog group has filed a lawsuit to force the release of documents relating to the company’s ability to contain potential oil spills. Click here to read an EPA fact sheet on Arctic offshore drilling.

Also at issue are safeguards required to protect against such known hazards as sea ice, subsurface ice scour and blowouts, as well as specifications for well design and well integrity control, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The unreleased testing data could reveal whether there could be an Arctic repeat of the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico when Shell starts drilling in the Arctic, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The group filed a lawsuit this week to force the release of the information. Continue reading

Environment: New Gulf oil leases challenged in court

A massive oil slick from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster spreads across the northern Gulf of Mexico, visible in this NASA satellite image as a sheen on the surface.

Conservation coalition says feds are ignoring painful lessons of Deepwater Horizon oil disaster

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — New deep water drilling plans in the Gulf of Mexico won’t go forward without a legal test, as a coalition of environmental groups last week challenged the Department of Interior’s decision to proceed with new permits without fully addressing the risks to wildlife and the environment.

While drilling regulators believe they have developed a robust new set of safety and environmental regulations, the conservation community thinks otherwise, claiming in the lawsuit that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management dismissed the lessons learned during the Deepwater Horizon disaster and failed to obtain essential information about the status of species and resources still suffering from the 2010 oil spill. Continue reading

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