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.

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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.

Gulf of Mexico – resources

The first oiled bird has been treated, Gulf Coast fishermen are training to become oil cleanup workers, and President Obama is heading to the spill site.

Visit our Gulf of Mexico resources page for quick sources of info related to the spill and response – will be updated with more helpful resources over the weekend.

life in the Gulf’s Mississippi Canyon

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon’s well is spewing 5,000 gallons of oil a day into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico’s Mississippi Canyon. Engineers try to build a dome over the gusher, while others work on digging a “relief” well nearby in a bid to stop the flow.

Today we revisit some of the sealife that NOAA and the US Minerals Management Service have documented so far in the their four-year series of deep sea explorations in the Gulf.


Above, an example of the Mississippi Canyon 751 site (near Deepwater Horizon well) where coral and cold seep habitats intersect. On the left is the gorgonian coral Callogorgia americana. On the right is the seep tubeworm. From Lophelia II expedition, 2009.



Lophelia pertusa coral from the Mississippi Canyon 751 site at approximately 450 m depth. From Lophelia II expedition, 2009.



Tubeworms living on the same piece of carbonate rock as large colonies of the gorgonian Callogorgia Americana americana. Note the brittle stars and a galatheid crab crawling on the gorgonians. Photo by Derk Bergquist.


Iceworms (Hesiocaeca methanicola) infest a solid piece of orange methane ice at 540 m depth in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Ian MacDonald. Both above photos from Expedition to the Deep Slope, 2006.


 

Photos courtesy NOAA Office of Ocean Research and Exploration


refuges in the first oil impact zone?

Much news, none of  it good, is streaming to us from the Gulf of Mexico, where an exploded oil rig has likely claimed 11 human lives and its uncapped well has gushed over 818 tons of crude oil into the sea so far and is spewing out more than 210,000 gallons a day. Today the oil slick covers an area at least 600 square miles large.

First in line in the potential impact zone? Two jewels of the national wildlife refuge system:

The Delta National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1935 as a bird sanctuary, is home to ducks, geese, raptors, wading birds, shorebirds, and several bird rookeries. Accessible to humans only by boat, the Mississippi Delta refuge is mostly marsh habitat.

To its northeast, the Breton National Wildife Refuge, established 106 years ago by Theodore Roosevelt, is a series of barrier islands whose sizes and shapes are constantly altered by tropical storms, wind, and tides. The refuge is habitat for colonies of nesting wading birds and seabirds, and wintering shorebirds and waterfowl.

Right now, it’s teeming with brown pelicans, laughing gulls, and royal, Caspian, and Sandwich terns – it’s the beginning of their nesting season.

“They [BP engineers] are putting out some containment booms to the south and east of Breton refuge,” Byron Fortier of the Southeast Louisiana Refuge Complex/Fish & Wildlife Service, told Oceanwire. “That might deflect any oil that might be headed that way.”

But, he says, “If any quantities of oil reach them, they will be very much impacted.”

Photo and map courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service