Repairing the Damage: A Look at the Gulf Oil Spill Disaster

jennifer Bjorkman | July-13-10


What contaminated sites professionals say about the Gulf Oil Spill

In light of the recent Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, there is increasing concern regarding the future state of this ecologically sensitive environment. Despite efforts to contain the spill, some fear the damage will be difficult to reverse. ECO Canada looks to professionals with experience in contaminated site work to provide insight into the challenges ahead.

Robert McCharles, CCEP, 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. In 2001, he managed one of the largest residential environmental assessment projects in Canada – the North of Coke Ovens assessment 2001 – a thorough evaluation of the former site in Sydney, Nova Scotia. McCharles was also heavily involved with the restoration of the Kurdistan oil spill in the Cabot Strait in March 1979, in which a British oil tanker en route from Nova Scotia to Quebec broke into two sections. He sited, developed and activated all of the land based disposal sites for the oil which came ashore.

From his experience with the aftermath of such environmental situations McCharles recognizes the negative effects of the disaster, but offers hope, “We are obviously in a bad position in the gulf,” he says, acknowledging many future problems with years of negative impacts from residual contamination, “I am inclined to think from my experience that Mother Nature will play a key role in righting the wrong.”

Barton Taylor, CCEP, is the Manager of the hazardous waste department for Envirotec and has spent 20 years within the hazmat industry in several capacities—from large scale management projects such as a two year project with TransCanada to remove 80,000 tonnes of contaminated and hazardous material, to heart wrenching clean up in drug labs where small children were living.

With experience in spill and release problems in rivers, oceans, and public waterways, Taylor says in all cases the impacts and effects that need to be considered are always the same: people, property and the environment. He acknowledges that cleaning water impacts are extensively complicated. “In water particularly, we want to know where the contaminant is going to be transported to (advection), where it randomly is going to flow and the shape of the plum (dispersion), what kind of separation or phases will the contaminant break down into within the water (partitioning), and finally, what issues and by-products do we have if this material starts to break apart (degradation),” all of these things, Taylor says, contribute to determining what happens, or the effect of release within water, specifically on habitats.

In addition to the families and children left behind when eleven men died in the incident, Taylor believes that the ecological habitats will also suffer from a great long term impact. Generations of marine and wildlife will feel the effects long after society has closed the books and moved on. However, it is haunting to realize what Taylor points out is most likely true: no matter how much discussion and exposure a situation like this has received, it too will fade to other more critical things in world news.

Taylor notes that in reality an incident like this puts the entire Oil and Gas industry under the public eye. Having said that, he believes the world cannot be hypocritical, “BP is the target right now, rightfully so, but the public needs to take a hard look in the mirror and figure out just how hard they tried as individuals to stop this from happening.”

These generous environmental professionals who offer their insight recognize that their beliefs and opinions are motivated by their own education and experience. With an environmental disaster of this magnitude, many will be involved in the clean-up of the site. Ensuring these professionals are qualified and prepared to deal with the restoration work may be one step in helping to remedy the situation.