Dispersants Used On Oil Spills

7 posts / 0 new

Thom has been right on message with his "Out of Sight - Out of Mind" argument against the use of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico.

Years ago I attended an inter-agency meeting at the Dept of Ecology in Washington State. Even though I have cited numerous studies devoloped by NOAA scientists in response to the Exxon Valdes oil spill, unfortunately I found myself opposing several of these scientists because they were approving the use of dispersants.

In their defense, these NOAA scientists approved of the use of dispersants primarily because the oil had such a devastating impact on nearshore resources (even today, 50% of test pits dug in the nearshore areas affected by the Exxon Valdes oil spill show oil still remains on spill affected beaches). Arguably, nearshore resources and ecosystems are by far the most biologically active and includes the more complex sensitive habitats as compared to other habitats. The argument for using dispersants were to avoid the fragile nearshore environment; given the experience of the NOAA scientists I understand but continue to disagree, it allows for far too much "Out of Sight - Out of Mind" slight of hand.

As an Environmental Specialist and observer of several spill events in Washington State, I opposed the use of dispersants for the same reason Thom Hartmann suggested on his show today, I was particularly concerned when I realized that the dispersants (at that time) appeared to be more toxic than the oil (and it was being proposed using very questionable science). At the time, Wash Dept of Ecology.told us they intended to include dispersants as a one of several methods for responding to oil spills; I'm sure this was in response to directions from the Bush Administration's EPA.

If we are going to continue to be forced to accept policies that have potential to exacerbate a disaster of global proportions, we have no choice but try to defend our environment using what tools we have.

Hopefully we can use this disaster as an opportunity to evaluate the actual toxological effects resulting from the use of dispersants WITHOUT the influence of the oil industry. Perhaps the next generation of NOAA scientists will be able to come up with an additional multiplier to be applied after determining natural resource damages, and added to the total.

In addition, determining natural resource damages is also a concern. Due to dispersant use, much of the resource damage will be underestimated because it won't be seen on the beaches or water's surface. Much of the assessment should require visual observations by submarine and remote operated vehicles (ROV) from now until we are certain they have fully characterized the damages. We also need to accept that without a miracle, much of the damage from the Gulf spill event will be permanent.

Renegaid's picture
Renegaid
Joined:
Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

Comments

The dispersant being used on the leaking oil, 2-butoxyethanol, was characterized inaccurately by Thom as a PAH, polyaromatic hydrocarbon. Thom should remember his organic chemistry better, it isn't. It is an ether alcohol, 4 carbons, an oxygen, 2 carbons and then the alcohol moiety, OH. PAHs are extremely toxic cyclic hydrocarbons, he's right about that. But this isn't one of them. Looking at the structure I'd expect liver toxicity.

Thom if you want it I'll get you a copy of the NIST library so you can see structures. Or google it

jdrew005
Joined:
Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

Let the National Response System Work!

I am a oil and chemical responder that works for the US Coast Guard and have years of experience responding to spills big and small. While I can understand everyone's concern about the use of dispersants, I have to take issue with the characterization of how and why they are being utilized on this spill. Also, the discussion I heard on Thom's show this past week about dispersants was in some cases just plain wrong. As a life long liberal, and dedicated public servant within the Federal government for both the EPA and the US Coast Guard I want to set the record straight on a couple of key points: 1) NATIONAL OIL AND HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES POLLUTION CONTINGENCY PLAN (NCP) (40CFR300) is the primary response authority for the US Coast Guard and BP. This system was set up following the lessons learned 1969 M/V Torrey Canyon spill in the UK. Since then, and after the passage of the Clean Water Act, Oil Pollution Act and Superfund, the NCP is the 'bible' when it comes to the federal government's response to any oil spill, and what authorities it can use to ensure that the polluter pays. The National Response System has been in place for over 40 years now and since the Exxon Valdez incident it has only been improved upon and time tested again and again.

My point here is that under the NCP, and within the National Response System, dispersant use is only approved for use by the Regional Response Team (RRT) a body of 16 different federal agencies that have been working together for years to game out spills like this. Specifically, the 13 RRTs across the country have discussed, researched and followed closely the use of dispersants across the world and have put into place several administrative 'hoops' to ensure that dispersant use is just one of many tools that the Federal On-Scene Coordinator can approve for use by the Responsible Party (RP), in this case BP.

As an environmental scientist, I share everyone's concern about the use of dispersant in this case, but I want to make everyone aware of a couple of things that I think have largely been left out of the discussion:

1. BP had to request approval for use of dispersants from the RRT; who only approves it with consultation of several resource trustees and other environmental scientists and stakeholder experts.

2. No one has tried to hide the fact that dispersants are chemicals and toxic. In the Oil spill response community everyone knows that cleaning up a spill is one part cleaning up, and three parts minimizing the inevitable impact. I assure you a lot of people were part and parcel in making the decision to use dispersants on this case...do you allow weathered crude oil to float into sensitive environments that may be a huge threat to wildlife and other nearshore birds, plants and ecosystems, or do you break it up into smaller droplets and hope the ocean can work to help you 'scrub' the contaminants?

3. Relying on on-water Mechanical recovery to clean a spill of magnitude would be foolish! Best case scenario, you get MAYBE 20-30% recovery of total oil spilled...and that is being generous. You absolutely have to use what ever tools you can to mitigate this kind of spill...How much environmental damage are you willing to leave to natural attenuation (doing nothing)? Dispersants are just one tool of many in a responder's toolbox, and taking that away now would be a terrible decision. I implore everyone to take a moment to read up on the NCP and the National Response System as it is working very well on this response.

4. I also have issue with the idea that dispersants are being used to get it 'out of sight and out of mind'. I assure you, that while some at BP might think thats a good thing...It isn't at all the reality of the spill. All the dispersant in the world isn't going to make this thing go away. BPs actions in order to mitigate this spill won't end just because an unprecedented use of dispersants is occuring in response to the spill. Even if the pictures aren't nearly as cool as they would have been if they didn't apply dispersants, it doesn't change BPs culpability, and the years of damage claims they will have to pay out. That includes natural resource damage assessments (NRDA, another very expensive process for polluters that have to pay for full recovery of any environment damaged), individual property damage claims, contract responder expenses, equipment expenses, on-site work vessels, government responders at all levels, pay, per diem etc. My point here is that people who listen to Mr. Hartmann's program have every reason to be upset, but complaining about dispersant use is tantamount to bitching about the scratch on your fender after a 5 car pile up on the interstate with 11 fatalities...while technically a problem that dispersants are toxic, the bigger issue remains this: The government failed to ensure that all platforms can work safely and have a plan to ensure that catastrophic failures can be handled with the minimum amount of oil spilled!

I would hope that Mr. Hartmann's listener's don't misplace their anger...federal regulators within the Minerals Management Service need to review their permitting process. They need to be mad at BP for not working to be the safest company possible when working to remove offshore oil. Please don't be upset or mad at a response system that has been time-tested after 40 years of thousands of successful responses by EPA and USCG responders, they are doing everything humanly possible to mitigate, remediate and minimize the environmental catastrophe going on within the gulf of Mexico. Thanks.

fedresponder's picture
fedresponder
Joined:
May. 9, 2010 2:22 pm

Thank you fedresponder for clarifying the issue. Very informative post!

If anyone is interested, you can find the Material Safety Data sheet for the two dispersants being used, Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527A, here.

And thank you for your work!

reed9's picture
reed9
Joined:
Apr. 8, 2010 11:26 am
Quote fedresponder:

Let the National Response System Work!

I am a oil and chemical responder that works for the US Coast Guard and have years of experience responding to spills big and small. While I can understand everyone's concern about the use of dispersants, I have to take issue with the characterization of how and why they are being utilized on this spill. Also, the discussion I heard on Thom's show this past week about dispersants was in some cases just plain wrong. As a life long liberal, and dedicated public servant within the Federal government for both the EPA and the US Coast Guard I want to set the record straight on a couple of key points: 1) NATIONAL OIL AND HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES POLLUTION CONTINGENCY PLAN (NCP) (40CFR300) is the primary response authority for the US Coast Guard and BP. This system was set up following the lessons learned 1969 M/V Torrey Canyon spill in the UK. Since then, and after the passage of the Clean Water Act, Oil Pollution Act and Superfund, the NCP is the 'bible' when it comes to the federal government's response to any oil spill, and what authorities it can use to ensure that the polluter pays. The National Response System has been in place for over 40 years now and since the Exxon Valdez incident it has only been improved upon and time tested again and again.

My point here is that under the NCP, and within the National Response System, dispersant use is only approved for use by the Regional Response Team (RRT) a body of 16 different federal agencies that have been working together for years to game out spills like this. Specifically, the 13 RRTs across the country have discussed, researched and followed closely the use of dispersants across the world and have put into place several administrative 'hoops' to ensure that dispersant use is just one of many tools that the Federal On-Scene Coordinator can approve for use by the Responsible Party (RP), in this case BP.

As an environmental scientist, I share everyone's concern about the use of dispersant in this case, but I want to make everyone aware of a couple of things that I think have largely been left out of the discussion:

1. BP had to request approval for use of dispersants from the RRT; who only approves it with consultation of several resource trustees and other environmental scientists and stakeholder experts.

2. No one has tried to hide the fact that dispersants are chemicals and toxic. In the Oil spill response community everyone knows that cleaning up a spill is one part cleaning up, and three parts minimizing the inevitable impact. I assure you a lot of people were part and parcel in making the decision to use dispersants on this case...do you allow weathered crude oil to float into sensitive environments that may be a huge threat to wildlife and other nearshore birds, plants and ecosystems, or do you break it up into smaller droplets and hope the ocean can work to help you 'scrub' the contaminants?

3. Relying on on-water Mechanical recovery to clean a spill of magnitude would be foolish! Best case scenario, you get MAYBE 20-30% recovery of total oil spilled...and that is being generous. You absolutely have to use what ever tools you can to mitigate this kind of spill...How much environmental damage are you willing to leave to natural attenuation (doing nothing)? Dispersants are just one tool of many in a responder's toolbox, and taking that away now would be a terrible decision. I implore everyone to take a moment to read up on the NCP and the National Response System as it is working very well on this response.

4. I also have issue with the idea that dispersants are being used to get it 'out of sight and out of mind'. I assure you, that while some at BP might think thats a good thing...It isn't at all the reality of the spill. All the dispersant in the world isn't going to make this thing go away. BPs actions in order to mitigate this spill won't end just because an unprecedented use of dispersants is occuring in response to the spill. Even if the pictures aren't nearly as cool as they would have been if they didn't apply dispersants, it doesn't change BPs culpability, and the years of damage claims they will have to pay out. That includes natural resource damage assessments (NRDA, another very expensive process for polluters that have to pay for full recovery of any environment damaged), individual property damage claims, contract responder expenses, equipment expenses, on-site work vessels, government responders at all levels, pay, per diem etc. My point here is that people who listen to Mr. Hartmann's program have every reason to be upset, but complaining about dispersant use is tantamount to bitching about the scratch on your fender after a 5 car pile up on the interstate with 11 fatalities...while technically a problem that dispersants are toxic, the bigger issue remains this: The government failed to ensure that all platforms can work safely and have a plan to ensure that catastrophic failures can be handled with the minimum amount of oil spilled!

I would hope that Mr. Hartmann's listener's don't misplace their anger...federal regulators within the Minerals Management Service need to review their permitting process. They need to be mad at BP for not working to be the safest company possible when working to remove offshore oil. Please don't be upset or mad at a response system that has been time-tested after 40 years of thousands of successful responses by EPA and USCG responders, they are doing everything humanly possible to mitigate, remediate and minimize the environmental catastrophe going on within the gulf of Mexico. Thanks.

Oh Snap!

slabmaster
Joined:
Apr. 1, 2010 11:12 am

Well here's to the government!!

meljomur's picture
meljomur
Joined:
Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

Your reply to this post was very thoughtful. I'm impressed at having evoked such a rational response, and from folks like you who know something about the subject.

However given the volume of oil and dispersants, I can't accept your assumption that the ocean will scrub the spill through natural process. Unless the volume of dispersant is factored into the natural resource damage assessment several times over, I doubt we will ever come close to restoring the Gulf of Mexico resources and aquatic ecosystems. And if the lack of open disclosure is any indication of the type of natural resource damage assessment we can expect, the resource damage will more than likely be seriously underestimated and the Gulf will suffer all the more.

If it appeared there was criticism of federal response efforts, my scrutiny is actually pointed toward government officials strategically placed in all jurisdictions of government with ties to the oil industry (this started under the Bush Admin), the Mineral Management Services (MMS) is one such case.

The line illustrating the distinction between government and private industry is becoming harder and harder to see, let alone show us what side of this line private OR government personnel stand upon. As long as unwritten government policy exists granting priority to industry interests over the environment, government will continue to appear as though it deserves to be drowned in a bath tub. Having said that, I worked with enough federal response personnel (and others from government), that I was convinced to make civil service a career. In spite of considerable political pressure, I can say I never failed to keep the "public interest" as first priority. However, I doubt I could have duplicated my career in public service if I were to serve in today's hostile partisan environment.

Until government employees can do their job without the influence of industry and fear of retribution, government employee efforts will continue to be villianized, it will go unrecognized and even be destined for elimination.

Thanks for your perspective.

Renegaid's picture
Renegaid
Joined:
Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

Currently Chatting

Time to Rethink the War on Terror

Thom plus logo

When Eric Holder eventually steps down as Attorney General, he will leave behind a complicated legacy, some of it tragic, like his decision not to prosecute Wall Street after the financial crisis, and his all-out war on whistleblowers like Edward Snowden.

Powered by Pressflow, an open source content management system