Nick Alford-The Corsair
Nearly three months after the leaking well head that released an estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico was finally capped, the EPA and BP have issued statements telling the public that the oil spill has been cleaned up and that no more crude can be found in the Gulf.
As the broken well head was spewing an estimated average of 50,000 barrels of crude into the Gulf per day, BP made the unprecedented decision to spray the leak with over 1.7 million gallons of Corexit 9500A, a dispersant that breaks down oil so that it can be more readily consumed by naturally occurring bacteria.
“Dispersants and surfactants have been part of our tool bag for dealing with oil spills for a long time, but we have never used them in these quantities before,” said Professor Richard Snyder, director of the Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation at University of West Florida, in a lecture on Sept 3.
According to a press release issued by the EPA, tests have concluded that dispersants alone were less toxic than oil, and that the combination of the two are no more toxic than either alone.
The press release stated, “The results of the aquatic toxicity tests generally classified the dispersants as ranging from slightly toxic to practically non-toxic to both test species with the exception of one dispersant found to be moderately toxic to fish.”
“Technically that might be true, but it’s not environmentally relevant,” Snyder said. “If the oil is floating on the surface and the fish are swimming underneath they’re not exposed to it. But as soon as you put dispersants on the oil and it dissolves the oil in the water; now you’ve exposed the fish; you have increased the bio availability of the oil.”
Snyder compared the dispersed oil in the Gulf to dissolved sugar in a cup of coffee, saying that just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
“The main benefit to BP (and our Federal Government) is to be free of this oil,” Snyder said. “They want it to go away. As soon as it’s off the pictures in the news, people forget.”
Snyder and his team have been actively investigating the impact this had on the marine habitat with no cooperation from BP or the EPA. According to Snyder, he had to drive to Louisiana himself to get an oil sample from an acquaintance who worked on a cargo ship.
“No one would send a sample to any of our labs so that we could establish an analytical baseline,” Snyder said. “NOAA wouldn’t send it, EPA didn’t have it and BP certainly wasn’t sending any out. There was very tight control from both BP and the Federal Government.”
They found layers upon layers of what they suspect to be degraded oil on the ocean floor about 60 miles due south of Pensacola on a marine expedition in mid June.
Snyder said they will not know for sure until next year what the long term effects of this will be; “Out there, near the well sight, quite likely, very little survived. It was one of the major spawning grounds for Blue Fin Tuna,” Snyder said. “We don’t expect too much from Blue Fin Tuna reproduction.”
There are over 3600 active oil drilling platforms connected by a network of 25,000 miles of active oil pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s a testament to the offshore drilling industry that we haven’t had major catastrophe like this so far.” Snyder said, “If you’ve read anything about what happened at this well site than you realize that there were a lot of people asleep at the switch. It’s not that we need more regulation, it’s that we need to follow the ones that we have.”