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.

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.

gushing oil, chemical dispersants and sealife

Video released by the Deepwater Horizon Response team from the oil leak site shows the sheer volume of crude spraying into the deep sea 24/7 (visible especially starting at 1:58)

And we got word from the EPA yesterday that it has approved further use of chemical dispersants, both on the surface and underwater, even though EPA notes

“The effects of underwater dispersant use on the environment are still widely unknown, which is why we are testing to determine its effectiveness first and foremost. If it is determined that the use of this dispersant underwater is effective and that BP may continue its use, the Federal government will require regular analysis of its impact on the environment, water and air quality, and human health. We reserve the right to discontinue the use of this dispersant method if any negative impacts on the environment outweigh the benefits.”

Testing on a grand scale and then deciding over time if the negative impacts might outweigh the benefits? Of course, the relatively slow pace of scientific research means the determination of negative impacts will lag far behind any immediate ‘benefits’ of the chemicals breaking up oil slicks.

Countless known and little-known sea creatures in the waters of the Mississippi Canyon and beyond are being inundated with the gushing oil. Adding a brew of mystery chemicals to the mix is irresponsible at best – our government can do much better by us and by our environment than sanction wild and desperate use of untested chemicals.

Among the many creatures in the Gulf’s deep waters? Bioluminescent sea creatures like jellyfish – scientists have been working for years to unlock the secrets of this phenomenon.

Pic o’ the week – transparent sea cucumber, Gulf of Mexico

A transparent sea cucumber, photographed 1.7 miles down (2,750 meters) in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Scientists found this transparent sea cucumber, Enypniastes, creeping forward on its many tentacles at less than 1 inch (2 cm) per minute while sweeping detritus-rich sediment into its mouth. From LiveScience; photo by Larry Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst.


The fact that the BP oil leak is gushing a mile underwater has kept the incident from becoming the complete public relations disaster it would be if a fraction of the oil geyser’s output was coming anywhere near lots of shore or humans.

This is divine luck for BP right now.

But it’s the opposite for the wildly diverse and biologically important life in the Gulf of Mexico’s deep waters.

The creatures of the deep sea are not entirely documented nor understood by researchers. Complex, labor-intensive and invaluable expeditions have been regularly trying to find these creatures, document them, and study their wondrous biologies, including bioluminescence and visual polarization. Thousands and thousands of creatures somehow thrive in darkness. Some are so delicate, their bodies disintegrate when scientists try to capture them for study.

The deep sea “is the Earth’s largest continuous ecosystem and largest habitat for life. It is also the least studied,” said researcher Chris German of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, co-chair of Biogeography of Deep-Water Chemosynthetic Systems project, part of the global 10-year Census of Marine Life.

It’s difficult to know how the sea life anywhere near the mile-deep oil spigot – or those being soaked in BP’s chemical dispersant (Corexit 9500) – will live through it. And even harder to understand how the damage at those depths could be documented.

It will be the silent, unmarked devastation of the Deepwater Horizon blowout. We’ll probably never know the magnitude of destruction at depth.