Consequences of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Ongoing

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By Alan Kovski

Oct. 18 — More regulations and more research are still to come on the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Government and academic specialists at a Capitol Hill briefing Oct. 17 offered a sampling of what has been done, is being done and needs to be done as they discussed the consequences of the 2010 disaster.

The Interior Department has issued a series of rules to establish or revamp safety and environmental management systems, drilling safety, production safety and Arctic-specific drilling requirements.

Upcoming will be a third set of requirements for safety and environmental management systems, according to Ryan Underwood, legislative counsel at Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The bureau also is planning to develop more improvements stemming from equipment failure reporting and equipment lifecycle reliability data, Underwood said. The agency currently is engaging stakeholders in industry to develop a better understanding of why so many bolts fail and how to prevent the failures, he said.

Seafood Fears Hurt Economies

After BP Plc, operating the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, lost control of the Macondo well, an estimated 3.19 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf over 87 days. Since then, more than five years of research on the environmental impacts have produced a multitude of reports on oiled shorelines, affected animals and struggling local economies.

Local economies especially were hurt by fears over the safety of seafood because those fears put a lot of people out of work when purchases of Gulf of Mexico seafood slumped, said Bernard Goldstein, a University of Pittsburgh professor emeritus of environmental and occupational health, at the Capitol Hill briefing.

Goldstein said more research is needed on the health effects of petroleum components, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, in seafood. The data at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are inadequate to allow for confident public advice on the health risks of those contaminants, he said.

He also suggested there was a need for more research on such basics as spilled oil residues.

“We still don’t know much about crude oil that’s been weathered,” Goldstein said. “We know about crude oil. But crude oil that’s been weathered? The stuff that comes ashore? No. Or all the different chemicals that are involved in the cleanup? No, we don’t know enough.”

Marine Mammals Still Suffering

Research of many kinds is ongoing. Whales and dolphins were thought to be especially vulnerable and are the focus of continuing studies.

Eighteen of 21 whale and dolphin species in the Gulf of Mexico had significant quantifiable health problems after the Deepwater Horizon spill, said Teri Rowles, coordinator of the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The spill was followed by a prolonged increase in the number of deaths of near-shore bottle-nosed dolphins on the Louisiana coast, Rowles said at the briefing. Studies of both living and dead dolphins revealed moderate to severe lung disease, apparently a result of breathing at the surface amid floating oil and dispersant chemicals, she said. Studies also indicated a decrease in reproduction among the dolphins, she said.

Both health problems continue, she said.

“The lung injury isn’t going away, and the reproductive failure is not going away, as of 2015,” Rowles said. “So these effects are long term.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Kovski in Washington at akovski@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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