A New Look at Oil Spill Response
An Analysis of the BP Macondo Spill Cleanup
The Science & Technology Advisory Board of the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization (LAEO) has just published a significant position paper entitled A Call for a Twenty-First-Century Solution in Oil Spill Response.
Bringing energy industry professionals, interagency federal and state officials, and environmental interests together at the same table, the work brings forth an important principle overlooked during the 2010 BP Oil Spill:
The foremost reason one cleans up an oil/chemical spill is to remove the pollutants/toxicity from the environment as rapidly as possible so that living organisms can survive and the ecosystem can sustain itself.
Utilizing this principle as a fundamental standard for oil spill cleanup guidance and policy establishes a valuable frame of reference by which one can evaluate response methods—mechanical cleanup, dispersants, and nontoxic agents—as to their effectiveness and economic viability.
The guidance material contained in this work is a constructive offering for every oil-producing country in the world and their potentially contaminated ecosystems. The paper brings a new analysis and assessment of the BP Macondo disaster response. It contains guidelines for the selection process for oil spill cleanup agents, along with an evaluation process that can be used to grade potential effectiveness of those agents in swiftly removing spilled oil from the environment.
The LAEO analysis challenges the standard that “25 percent cleaned up” is an acceptable industry benchmark for an effective spill response, as research indicates that existing technology can far exceed that.
Recently a special feature covering the 2010 BP spill response (“Science in Support of the Deepwater Horizon Response”), published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal of December 2012, sent mixed messages and missed the importance of the above principle as the basis for measuring response effectiveness . While hailing the cleanup as successful, the Perspective, co-authored by federal interagency scientists and associates, also acknowledged, “Despite aggressive recovery and removal efforts, only around one-quarter of the oil was removed by the federally directed response.” Notwithstanding these statistics, it is unclear how this academic work arrived at an overall conclusion that the spill response was effective, indicating similar methodology will likely be used on future spills.
Long-term and even recent studies of oil spill environmental damage and the response methods employed show that these “successful” methods have failed to remove the toxicity from the environment (and in the case of dispersants, have added toxicity), ending up in enormous destruction to wildlife, marine life, the local economy, and human health.
The Twenty-First-Century Solution paper expresses a significant concern that federal agencies tasked with protecting our waters and natural resources hold the viewpoint that (a) the negative effects of chemical dispersants “need more study before anyone will really know for sure,” while they continue to use them as a preferred preapproved method, and (b) there are no better methods.
This paper’s Call for Action details and builds a science-based case for halting the use of dispersants that contain pollutants and do not remove oil and its toxic components from the environment; and more importantly, it presents an effective nontoxic replacement for current methodology. Continue reading