By Ashley Tkachyk, Professional Services, ECO Canada
On April 20, 2010, a gas release and subsequent explosion occurred on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig working for British Petroleum (BP) in the Gulf of Mexico, claiming the lives of 11 people and injuring several others. The fire burned for 36 hours before the rig sank, while hydrocarbons leaked into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days until the well was sealed. Known as the worst accidental marine oil spill in history, many are wondering where the gulf stands today, a year after the incident.
Various reports circulate the media, discussing oil remains and damaging environmental effects still in the area. ECO Canada turns to qualified environmental professionals to shed some light on what to expect, a year after the spill.
According to recent reports in the news, evidence of oil remains have been discovered washing up on beaches and on the ocean floor, and with last year’s events many are not hesitant on where to point the blame. Industry experts tell us that although the volume of oil from an event like this can significantly add to residual on the sea floor, this is not only the consequence of many other oil rigs, but also natural occurrence.
Robert McCharles, EP, has been involved with restoration and reclamation site work for over 30 years. A retired partner with Dillon Consulting, he now owns his own company, McCharles Environmental Services. With a background in marine spills, McCharles offers his insight into the situation.
“Considering the number of drill exploration locations and hydrocarbon production sites in the Gulf it would be a challenge to identify what company is responsible for the tar balls/mats.” He adds, “Natural seafloor oil seeps can also add to the volume and thus more confusion over source identification.”
So a year after a spill of this nature, where should we expect the situation to lie today? According to McCharles, while BP, state, and federal regulatory agencies are monitoring the location and initial effects of the spill, most wildlife, human, tourism, and fishery impacts have been identified. As for the potential cumulative effects and loss to individuals, counties, and states - these will be settled in court.
“The vast majority of detrimental impacts to the environment have been realized shortly after the release,” says McCharles, “We can't lose sight of the fact that this oil came from living organisms and are natural in their chemical composition. The natural environment will utilize the oil and over time, when this food source is used up, we will see little evidence of the spill.”
What is currently a concern to experts are the effects from the frantic clean-up that was executed after the event. Recent findings show that there is little known about the adverse effects of many of the chemical dispersants used against the spill. “What potential impact the 1.84 million gallons of dispersant that BP released into the environment as a "clean-up" technology will have on the natural environment remains a question for future study,” notes McCharles.
With many still expecting remediation efforts from BP, there are differing opinions about next steps. “Currently, the huge volume of released oil not recovered represents a food source for natural organisms and common sense tells us to allow this natural process to finalize the clean-up,” says McCharles offering his own insights.” Human intervention/remediation processes at this stage would likely do more harm than good.”
With many eyes on BP to remedy the situation, McCharles reminds us of the source issues: “Our human nature tells us that more action is required to fix the problem - we need to blame someone or some company and we continue to deny that our demand for hydrocarbons brings with it the negative outcomes we experience.”
With the first deep-water drilling permit since last year’s spill recently awarded to Noble Energy Inc., many wonder what lies ahead. Through the Gulf of Mexico research initiative, BP has dedicated over $500 million to research in the area. According to McCharles, prevention is key. “As our demand for hydrocarbons continues to increase, we will continue to explore in deeper water, harsher climates, and those areas which are now restricted by moratorium.” He adds, “Spill prevention must be the research objective, and considering most experts conclude that we are now using the last half of the available oil supply, we cannot afford to waste this resource.”
Images from www.spillphotos.com