Unified Command gives actual dates for last dispersant use

It took them a few days – and a certain working of the phone lines by us – but Unified Command’s press shop finally came up with its officials dates on dispersant use in the Gulf.

A Coast Guard staffer at Unified Command gave us these dates:

  • the last application of sub-sea dispersant was July 15 – 8,391 gallons
  • the last application of surface & aerial dispersant was July 19 – 200 gallons applied aerially

That leaves the official tally of dispersant dumped into and on the Gulf at  approx. 1.84 million gallons — 1,070,000 on surface and 771,000 sub-sea.

As long as the well stays capped, BP may likely not apply more dispersants. But who knows.

Everyone who cares should be watching the daily numbers – this is probably how we’ll learn if and when they start using dispersants again.

The controversy about dispersants hasn’t died down, however. Recent perspectives on the dispersants are here, herehere, here and here.

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Unified Command: BP “cannot remember” when dispersant last used

We checked in with the Unified Command press shop today, to verify that BP still is applying no dispersants in the Gulf.

The staffer told us that no dispersants have been applied sub-sea since July 15. This jives with their response to us last week. However, the staffer (same one we talked to before – from USDA), could not say when surface/aerial dispersants application had stopped. This does not exactly jive with what they told us last week.

Last night’s official numbers were the same as they’ve been in every daily update since July 15:

“Approximately 1.84 million gallons of total dispersant have been applied—1.07 million on the surface and 771,000 sub-sea.”

However, last week they told us those numbers didn’t quite reflect that there had been surface/aerial dispersant used since July 15. When pressed to give a date when surface/aerial dispersant use stopped, the staffer stated today:

“It’s been a few days. It certainly has been more than about 48 hours …. I’m asking the BP guys if they’ve monitored when it was used since that point [last week], and they cannot remember. And so we very well could not have used dispersants since the last time you called.”

He could not provide a specific date of the last dispersant application, then he referred us to the daily updates and stated “We’re only as good as those numbers”,  which last week he said weren’t reflecting when aerial/surface dispersant use stopped.

Major media — please follow up on this — it’s a straightforward query and there’s no reason for no answer. Demand answers. Of course someone in the federal government must know when BP applies dispersant and when they don’t — and if no entity in the federal government knows, that’s a huge problem.

We need total transparency with the use of this chemical brew in the Gulf.

BP has stopped using dispersants in the Gulf – for now

We’ve crunched the numbers from the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command press shop, compiling their daily stats for dispersants used in the Gulf of Mexico so far – and the official dispersant numbers for the past week are surprising:

According to official releases, a “very small” amount of  dispersants have been used in the oil spill response since July 16 – and none sub-sea. The statements released by Unified Command on each day since July 15 is exactly the same:

“Approximately 1.84 million gallons of total dispersant have been applied—1.07 million on the surface and 771,000 sub-sea.”

A call to Unified Command’s press center today yielded this comment – “In the last 24 hours, no dispersants have been used.” The staffer then called back and stated “No dispersant has been used sub-sea since the cap went on. A very small amount of surface dispersant has been used since then.” The cap went on the well on July 15th.

This revelation should no doubt please Drs. Sylvia Earle, David Gallo, Susan Shaw, David Guggenheim and the countless other marine scientists and advocates who have been asking the Obama administration to order BP to halt its use of dispersants in the Gulf – issuing a ‘consensus statement’ urging a halt to any further use of dispersants in the Gulf.

It remains critical that the scientists and advocates continue to monitor the dispersant situation – while BP has drastically reduced dispersant use this past week, the oil giant could ramp it back up at any time.

Today’s Gulf sea turtle – Loggerhead

As The Baltimore Sun’s Candus Thomson notesall five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are listed under the Endangered Species Act (this was true even before the BP oil disaster). We’re looking at fast facts about these species – this week, it’s the Loggerhead:

Loggerhead Sea Turtle
(Caretta caretta)

  • named for their large heads
  • listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act since 1978
  • adults generally grow to be 31 to 45 inches large, and weigh 170 to 250 pounds
  • reach sexual maturity around 20 to 30 years old; loggerheads are estimate to live up to and beyond 50 years
  • dine on jellyfish, sponges, shellfish, shrimp, squid, barnacles, sea urchins and occasionally seaweed
  • thought to be the largest hard shell turtle species
  • in the Gulf, nest primarily along the Florida coast
  • the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is the most important nesting area for loggerheads in the western hemisphere

Loggerhead turtles are threatened by the same things imperiling all sea turtles — marine debris, degradation of nesting habitat, capture for meat and eggs. One of the primary threats they face is incidental capture in fishing gear – from nets to longlines. Commercial shrimp trawlers have historically had a relatively high incidental turtle catch. Now, those trawlers’ nets have turtle excluder devices (TEDs). A TED is an grid of crossbars at the neck of the trawl net – it allows turtles and sharks caught in the net to get out. This ‘escape hatch’ is credited with saving countless sea turtles. The US government says it’s working with other countries who export shrimp to the US to require encourage shrimp trawlers to use TEDs. The photo on left is a loggerhead escaping a trawl net via a TED.

Photos courtesy NOAA: top photo, Marco Giuliano/ Fondazione Cetacea

Information sources:
National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA
National Park Service
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Connecticut Dept of Environmental Protection

Today’s Gulf sea turtle – Hawksbill

As The Baltimore Sun’s Candus Thomson notesall five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are listed under the Endangered Species Act (this was pre-oil leak). We’re looking at fast facts about these species – this week, it’s the Hawksbill:

Hawksbill Sea Turtle
(Eretmochelys imbricata)

  • listed by US as a critically endangered species since 1970
  • average adult size is 2 1/2 feet and 95 to 165 pounds
  • adults feed mostly on sponges and other invertebrates
  • can live to be roughly 50 years old
  • named for unique hooked beak
  • females nest April through November, and typically not in groups
  • females can nest faster than any other sea turtles – can complete the entire process in less than 45 minutes
  • primary nesting areas in the US are in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Florida’s SE coast and the Keys
  • global populations have declined 80% or more in past century

The Hawksbill sea turtle’s dramatic population decline is due to a variety of causes – habitat degradation, artificial lighting along beaches, marine pollution and debris, incidental take by commercial fishing operations, egg collection and hunting of adults for meat.

Another significant factor in the Hawksbills’ decline is trade in their lovely carapaces – primarily for “tortoiseshell” jewelry.

Legal trade in Hawksbill shell trade ended when Japan agreed to stop importing shell in 1993, but a significant illegal trade continues. Trade in Hawksbills and products made from them is prohibited by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Photo credits: Top photo courtesy Thomas Doeppner; bottom photo by Caroline Rogers, USGS

Today’s Gulf sea turtle – Kemp’s ridley

As The Baltimore Sun’s Candus Thomson notes, all five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are listed under the Endangered Species Act (this was pre-oil leak). We’re looking at fast facts about these species, starting with the most endangered:

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle
(Lepidochelys kempii)

  • the most endangered of the sea turtles
  • the smallest of the sea turtles, measuring 23 to 28 inches, and weighing up to 100 pounds
  • feed mostly on crabs
  • reach maturity at 10 to 15 years old, and can live 30 to 50 years
  • females nest from May to July, on beaches across the Gulf of Mexico
  • Padre Island National Seashore is one of the most popular nesting beaches for the turtles in the US
  • Kemp’s Ridleys are named after Richard M. Kemp, a fisherman from Key West, FL, who first submitted the species for ID in 1906

Kemp’s ridleys display what NOAA calls “one of the most unique synchronized nesting habits in the natural world”, called “arribada”— arriving in waves of hundreds on a single day on beaches in Mexico. Scientists discovered this phenomenon in 1947, when they saw an amateur video documenting an extraordinary arribada near Rancho Nuevo. It is said that approximately 42,000 Kemp’s ridleys nested during that single day. The video also showed locals harvesting more than 80% of the turtle eggs. The arribadas recorded since then have been much lower, numbering in the low thousands of nesting female turtles.

The habitat preferences of Kemp’s ridley hatchlings has led Florida biologist Blair Witherington to say they may well be “the poster child for what’s happening to wildlife” in the Gulf oil spill.

Photos courtesy National Park Service

The Gulf’s deepwater corals

The New York Times has an excellent article today discussing state of science and research about deepwater corals in the Gulf of Mexico.

As we’ve blogged, the site of the BP oil disaster has been explored and mapped to some degree by NOAA – some of it funded by the Minerals Management Service.

During last fall’s deepwater expedition in the area, researchers were energized by the forests of deepwater Lophelia they found – it’s a type of coral that can be a vital foundation species to the health of the oceans. But much remains (remained?) to be discovered at depth there.

“We know 1 percent of what’s out there in deep waters — perhaps 1 percent,” said Dr. Billy Causey of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries.

Lophelia pertusa, black coral (right), anemones, and squat lobster, Gulf of Mexico.
Image courtesy of Ian MacDonald, Lophelia II 2009 expedition.