Oil mats after BP spill pose long-term ecosystem threat: study

MOBILE, Alabama Wed Sep 21, 2011 1:57am EDT

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MOBILE, Alabama (Reuters) - Auburn University researchers said oil mats submerged in the seabed more than a year after the biggest oil spill in U.S. history pose long-term threats to coastal ecosystems across the northern Gulf of Mexico.

The study, released on Tuesday by the school's engineering department, showed that tarballs churned to the surface by Tropical Storm Lee and deposited along Alabama beaches this month had "essentially identical" chemical composition as samples taken from mats after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

"Our interpretation of these observations is that submerged tar mats buried offshore of this coastline are breaking apart to yield these tar balls," the study reads, estimating the tarballs in question contained about 17 percent oil by mass.

The civil engineering study -- conducted prior to, during and after the tropical storm's landfall on Alabama beaches -- indicated the spill's remnants remained largely unchanged 17 months after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank off the coast of Louisiana.

The data directly linked the recently deposited tarballs to the 2010 event that resulted in more than 200 million gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from BP PLC's Macondo well.

"The data question the validity of the widely held belief that submerged oil from the Deepwater Horizon accident is substantially weathered and thus depleted of most polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons," the study said.

"Also, it supports the hypothesis that submerged oil may continue to pose some level of long-term risk to nearshore ecosystems," it said.

The study added that the tropical storm had demonstrated the "potential for remobilization" by similar storm events in the future but said the magnitude of such events could not be anticipated with any level certainty.

BP spokesman Scott Dean said the Auburn research has not had any immediate impact on the oil company's ongoing response to the spill.

"We're looking at the study, but it doesn't change our commitment to the response," Dean said. "We'll continue to have crews out collecting tarballs as the reports come in."

Specifically, BP dispatched Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique teams to the affected areas following Tropical Storm Lee and provided additional manual cleanup personnel to "augment existing cleanup operations.

The SCAT teams consist of an environmental lead, a safety lead and representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, Alabama Department of Environmental Management and BP.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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Comments (2)
aligatorhardt wrote:
Picking up tarballs off the beach is nothing but a PR move to keep the public from thinking about the tar mats that blanket the ocean floor, creating dead zones that will never be cleaned up. These mats have been reported a year ago from submarine observations in the spill area where 3 to 4 inch thick tar covered the ocean floor. Nothing can live on that toxic carpet. Obviously the entire food chain will be impacted from the loss of all seafloor life in large areas as well as the toxicity increase in the water.

Sep 21, 2011 4:28am EDT  --  Report as abuse
BillReeder wrote:
Oil Spill Eater II has been successfully demonstrated on the BP spill in front of EPA/RRT members, as well as Senator Gollot in Waveland Beach Mississippi on sandy beach and in the marsh. Governor Jindal as well as other state senators have requested a change in response to the non toxic preferred response OSE II. BP’s Dr Tsao successfully tested OSE II on the BP oil with with the highly toxic dispersant Corexit and then requested a demonstration that has been cancelled by the EPA. BP has in fact requested the utilization of OSE II twice. Everyone in the gulf recognizes there is a far safer, more efficient means to address this ongoing spill, and that is with OSE II. OSE II is already listed on the EPA’s National contingency plan for oil spills, and has cleaned up spill in particular for the EPA. OSE II is used world wide and has been apart of over 16000 spills several for BP themselves. The EPA’s response for the last 23 years has been comprised of mechanical clean up, and toxic Corexit dispersants that only sink oil. This type of outdated, antiquated response has decimated the Gulf of Mexico waters, seabed, marshes, beaches, and intertidal zones. BP has been forced to carry out this outdated response which has now estimated to cost 42 billion dollars, when they could have used the non toxic proven preferred response OSE II that can rapidly address 100% of the oil whether it is on the surface water, on the seabed, in marshes or on beaches, converting the oil to a safe end point of water and CO2, that could have saved BP over 30 billion dollars.

Sep 25, 2011 11:33am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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