Tag Archives: oil

NZ oil spill

NZ oil spill ship’s safety breaches.

A CARGO ship spewing oil, shipping containers and rubbish along the New Zealand coastline after it hit a reef was detained in Fremantle in July for safety and cargo breaches and given three months to repair its ”safety management system”.

The Liberian-flagged MV Rena was inspected again in Sydney on September 22, but the safety management system was not checked because the three months had not expired. It was allowed to sail on to New Zealand.

The MV Rena was detained in Fremantle on July 21 by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority because of problems with hatch covers and cargo storage and its safety management system.

The stricken Rena leaks more oil on October 13, 2011 in Tauranga, New Zealand. Up to 350 tonnes of oil has spilled from the Click for more photos

New Zealand Cargo Ship Rena

The stricken Rena leaks more oil on October 13, 2011 in Tauranga, New Zealand. Up to 350 tonnes of oil has spilled from the “Rena” a Liberan cargo ship stricken off the coast of Tauranga since October 5. Photo: Getty Images

  • The stricken Rena leaks more oil on October 13, 2011 in Tauranga, New Zealand. Up to 350 tonnes of oil has spilled from the
  • An Air Force iroquis helicopter lowers crew onto the Rena.
  • Fly-over shots of stranded cargo vessel Rena grounded on the Astrolabe Reef,in Tauranga, New Zealand.
  • The container ship Rena grounded on the Astrolabe reef off Tauranga. A large crack appears in the side of the stricken vessel Rena.
  • The Cargo ship Rena Thursday morning.
  • A tugboat and a helicopter work around the grounded cargo ship Rena.
  • Oil from the stricken vessel Rena coats  Papamoa Beach in Tauranga, New Zealand.
  • Local residents come to look at a washed up container from the stricken ship Rena on the beach in Tauranga.
  • Local residents come to look at a washed up container with part cooked burger patties littering the beach on October 13, 2011 in Tauranga, New Zealand.
  • A dead fish lies on the beach in Tauranga, New Zealand.
  • Volunteers stand at Papamoa beach dirty with fuel oil from the Liberian-flagged container ship Rena stuck aground on a reef off the coast of Tauranga.
  • Local volunteers rescue deer skins washed up on the beach from the stricken ship Rena in Tauranga.
  • A container washed ashore on Motiti Island.
  • Papamoa Beach clean up by the Army.
  • Dead birds found on Mount Manganui beach after oil from the ship Rena starts to wash ashore.
  • Clean-up workers rake sand oiled following the leak from the stricken container ship 'Rena' at Mount Maunganui near Tauranga.
  • People stand on the beach as a container from the stricken ship 'Rena' lies in the water at Mount Maunganui near Tauranga.
  • Material from spilt containers from the ship 'Rena' litter the beach.

A spokesman for the authority said ”two minor defects related to equipment were given two weeks for rectification and these were subsequently verified as completed”.

The third defect with the safety management system was given three months to fix. ”No defects were related to charts, passage planning, navigation equipment or fatigue,” the spokesman said.

A safety management system means a structured and documented system enabling ship personnel to implement effectively the ”company and ship safety and environmental protection policy”.

The ill-fated Rena visited Melbourne on September 19 before heading on to Port Botany on September 22.

Port of Melbourne spokesman Peter Harry said the port considered events such as the Rena incident as a ”high consequence, low probability” event for Port Phillip Bay and worked to minimise the probability.

Peter Corcoran, director maritime safety with Transport Safety Victoria, said ”the mandatory use of pilots for large vessels entering the ports of Melbourne, Geelong, Hastings and Portland is one of Victoria’s key risk controls”.

Phillip Starkins, from the Department of Transport, said the department ”owns, stores and maintains specialised pollution response equipment throughout the state to utilise in the event of an incident”.

A German shipping company was ordered to pay more than $1 million in fines in 2005 after one of its vessels discharged 30,000 to 40,000 litres of waste oil sludge about nine nautical miles off Phillip Island in 2003.

New Oil Remediation Tech takes $1mil Xprize

Disc Spins Its Way to $1 Million Oil Spill Clean Up Prize: Scientific American Podcast.

When oil started spewing from BP’s Macondo well in April 2010, there weren’t too many options for cleaning it up. Concentrated slicks on the ocean surface could be set ablaze. Booms kept oil off the shores, as long as the waves stayed calm. And chemical dispersants of unknown toxicity could be sprayed to break up oil patches.

But thanks to the Wendy Schmidt X Prize that won’t be true next time. A company from Illinois known as Elastec / American Marine won the $1 million first prize by tripling previous clean up rates.

Over 10 weeks this summer, 10 finalists out of 350 entrants demonstrated their technology at the largest outdoor saltwater wave test facility in North America. Elastec’s Grooved Disc Skimmer scooped up 4,670 gallons of oil per minute and didn’t leave much behind.

The machine looks like a giant, thick, grooved vinyl record spinning at high speed to capture nearly 90 percent of the oil on the waters. And there’s no shortage of oil spills for it to work on. The latest is underway in New Zealand, as a stranded cargo ship leaks heavy oil onto a coral reef and local beaches.

Where did the Gulf's spilt oil and gas go?

Where did the Gulf’s spilt oil and gas go? – environment – 18 July 2011 – New Scientist.

The puzzle over what happened to the oil and gas released during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year has been partially solved.

Oil is composed of many thousands of different chemicals but the plume that stretched through the Gulf contained relatively few. Now chemists have worked out what happened to the rest.

Christopher Reddy, an environmental chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, and colleagues, used a remotely operated submarine to collect samples directly from the leaking well in June 2010 and compared these with samples taken from elsewhere in the oil plume.

Reddy likens the oil and gas molecules gushing out of the wellhead to passengers on an elevator. “We wanted to know which compounds got off the elevator instead of going up,” he says.

The team found that water-soluble compounds dissolved in neutrally buoyant seawater about 400 metres above the wellhead. These included benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene – a toxic suite collectively referred to as BTEX. And in this layer they stayed. By contrast, the compounds that reached the surface were mainly insoluble.

Deep difference

Reddy’s work helps to answer one of the major questions from the oil spill – what happened to all that oil and gas, says David Valentine, a microbial geochemist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The results show how deep oil spills differ from surface spills, where many toxic compounds quickly evaporate rather than contaminating the water.

The team’s measurements also show that BTEX concentrations reached up to 78 micrograms per litre. That level is several orders of magnitude higher than known toxicity levels for marine organisms, according to Judith McDowell, a zoologist also at Woods Hole.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1101242108

Yellowstone River Oil Spill Environmental Damage Still A big Question

Teams Gauge Yellowstone River Oil Spill : NPR.

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July 3, 2011

Teams of federal and state workers fanned out Sunday along Montana’s famed Yellowstone River to gauge the environmental damage from a ruptured Exxon Mobil pipeline that spewed tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the waterway.

The break near Billings, in south-central Montana, fouled the riverbank and forced municipalities and irrigation districts to close intakes.

An Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Sonya Pennock said an unspecified amount of oil could be seen some 40 miles downriver during a fly-over Sunday, and there were other reports of oil as far as 100 miles away near the town of Hysham.

But an Exxon Mobil Corp. executive said shoreline damage appeared to be limited to the Yellowstone between Laurel and Billings, which includes about 20 miles of river.

Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. President Gary Pruessing said company observers flying over the river had seen “very little soiling” beyond Billings, and that the oil appeared to be evaporating and dissipating into the river as the flooded Yellowstone carries it downstream.

A representative of the Montana Disaster and Emergency Services Division said the company’s claim was reasonable but had not been independently verified.

State officials on Saturday had reported a 25-mile long slick headed downstream toward the Yellowstone’s confluence with the Missouri River, just across the Montana border in North Dakota. An estimated 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, spilled Saturday before the flow from the damaged pipeline was stopped.

“My guess is that as fast as that water is moving, it’s probably dissipating pretty quick,” said DES public assistance officer Tim Thennis.

Exxon Mobil also revealed Sunday that the 12-inch pipeline had been temporarily shut down in May because of concerns over the rising waters on the Yellowstone. Pruessing said the company decided to restart the line a day later after examining its safety record and deciding the risk of failure was low.

The company and government officials have speculated that high waters in recent weeks may have scoured the river bottom and exposed the pipeline to debris that could have damaged the pipe. The state has received record rainfall in the last month and also has a huge snowpack in the mountains that is melting, which has resulted in widespread flooding.

“We are very curious about what may have happened at the bottom of the river. We don’t have that yet,” Pruessing said.

An EPA representative said only a small fraction of the spilled oil is likely to be recovered.

Agency on-scene coordinator Steve Way said fast flows along the flooding river were spreading the oil over a large area, making it harder to capture. But Way said that also could reduce damage to wildlife and cropland along the river.
Crews were putting absorbent material along short stretches of the river in Billings and near Laurel, but there were no attempts at capturing oil farther out in the river. In some areas, oil flowed underneath booms and continued downstream.

Up to 100 emergency response workers from Exxon Mobil and its contractors were due on the scene by late Sunday. Pruessing said they would remain there until the cleanup is complete.

But property owners along the river were growing frustrated with the response, particularly in agricultural areas where crops and pastures for grazing were at risk. The Yellowstone river is also popular among fishermen, though areas further upriver from the spill are more heavily trafficked.

Billings-area goat rancher Alexis Bonogofsky said the flooding Yellowstone brought the oil into her summer pastures — pollution she’s not sure what to do with. Bonogofsky said she had been unable to get answers through either government authorities or Exxon Mobil.

“My place is covered with oil,” she said. “I would like a list that says ‘this is what’s in crude oil.’ … I called a million times yesterday and got no response.”

The 20-year-old pipeline was last inspected in 2009 using a robotic device that travels through the line looking for corrosion, dents or other problems, Pruessing said. Soundings to determine the pipeline’s depth were taken in December, and at the time, the line appeared to be 5 to 8 feet below the riverbed, he said.

“It was completely in line with all regulatory requirements,” he said.

Pipeline control room workers first became aware of a problem with the line when pressure readings dropped early Saturday morning. Pruessing said workers began shutting down the line within six minutes, although it was unclear how long that process took.

The estimated 42,000 gallons spilled was a small fraction of that in major accidents; 11 million gallons were spilled in Alaska’s Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, for example. But officials said the pristine nature of the Yellowstone, along with its turbulent waters and riverside communities, were likely to make for unique challenges as cleanup and damage assessment progressed.

Swift water hinders Yellowstone River oil spill cleanup

Swift water hinders Yellowstone River oil spill cleanup – CNN.com.

The leaked oil floats in pools caused by recent flooding around the Yellowstone River.

The leaked oil floats in pools caused by recent flooding around the Yellowstone River.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: “Milky brown” residue spotted in Yellowstone River
  • The underwater pipeline breach was discovered late Friday
  • Exxon estimates the leak at 750-1,000 barrels

(CNN) — High water and a swift current has helped break up an oil spill that dumped hundreds of barrels of crude into Montana’s Yellowstone River over the weekend, local officials said Sunday.

ExxonMobil said between 750 to 1,000 barrels (32,000 to 42,000 gallons) of oil escaped late Friday when a pipeline ruptured beneath the river near Billings. Some of the of the oil has washed ashore or formed pools of “milky brown” residue in river eddies, Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder said.

But Linder and Duane Winslow, the county’s emergency services director, said flooding has made it harder to track and clean up the mess. The Yellowstone was running above flood stage over the weekend, sweeping brush and logs into the river, and had a 5- to 7-mph current Sunday.

“It’s too dangerous to do anything on the river, to put out any sort of boats or anything,” Winslow said. “So people will be working from the shores rather than out in the middle of the river.”

Crude oil leaks into Yellowstone River

The spill was discovered late Friday night near Laurel, west of Billings and about 100 miles downstream from Yellowstone National Park. The pipeline feeds an ExxonMobil refinery in Billings, and the company said it had shut down the line within minutes.

“We will stay with the cleanup until it is complete, and we sincerely apologize to the people of Montana for any inconvenience the incident is creating,” Gary Pruessing, the president of ExxonMobil’s pipeline subsidiary, said in a statement issued Sunday.

There were no reports of wildlife being endangered by the spill, Tim Thennis, who is leading the response for the Montana’s Disaster Emergency Services agency, said Sunday.

The spill forced the evacuation of more than 200 nearby residents after it was discovered Friday night, but they were allowed to return Saturday morning. Laurel rancher Lloyd Webber said the spill left a “pretty heavy” smell of oil hanging over the area Friday night as he and his wife left their home.

“We went to the Perkins in Billings and drank coffee for two or three hours, then went back,” said Webber, who lives about a half-mile from the river.

The Yellowstone is one of the tributaries of the Missouri River, which it joins in neighboring North Dakota. Thennis said state agencies, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and ExxonMobil are working together to clean up the spill.

Exxon screws up Yellowstone river with pipeline leak

Ruptured Pipeline Spills Oil Into Yellowstone River: is this the height of stupidity or what? Run a pipeline under a crucial and protected river, especially when there is tectonic activity??

“An ExxonMobil pipeline running under the Yellowstone River in south central Montana ruptured late Friday, spilling crude oil into the river and forcing evacuations.
The pipeline burst about 10 miles west of Billings, coating parts of the Yellowstone River that run past Laurel — a town of about 6,500 people downstream from the rupture — with shiny patches of oil. Precisely how much oil leaked into the river was still unclear. But throughout the day Saturday, cleanup crews in Laurel worked to lessen the impact of the spill, laying down absorbent sheets along the banks of the river to mop up some of the escaped oil, and measuring fumes to determine the health threat.

Fearing a possible explosion, officials in Laurel evacuated about 140 people on Saturday just after midnight, then allowed them to return at 4 a.m. after tests showed fumes from the leaked oil had dissipated, The Associated Press reported. While the cause of the rupture was not immediately known, Brent Peters, the fire chief for Laurel, told The A.P. that it may have been caused by high waters eroding parts of the river bed and exposing the pipeline to debris.

The pipeline is 12 inches wide and runs from Silver Tip, Mont., to Billings, an area with three refineries, ExxonMobil said. All three were shut down after the spill. ExxonMobil said it had summoned its North American Regional Response Team to help clean up the spill, and a fire spokesman in Laurel said more than 100 people, including officials with the Environmental Protection Agency, were expected to arrive at the scene by Sunday morning.

In a statement, the company said it “deeply regrets this release and is working hard with local emergency authorities to mitigate the impacts of this release on the surrounding communities and to the environment.”

“The pipeline has been shut down and the segment where the release occurred has been isolated,” the statement added. “All appropriate state and federal authorities have been alerted.”

The rupture occurred sometime around 11:30 p.m. Friday. Duane Winslow, a disaster and emergency services coordinator for Yellowstone County, told a local television station, KTVQ, that all oil companies with pipelines near the river were told to immediately shut them down, and that the damaged pipe was off within half an hour. He said drinking water in the surrounding area was being monitored and so far was determined safe. Officials in Billings initially shut down water intake but later reopened it, KTVQ reported.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 2, 2011

An earlier version of this article said that the pipeline burst 10 miles east, rather than west, of Billings, Mont.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/03/us/03oilspill.html

How Much Damage Did the Deepwater Horizon Spill Do to the Gulf of Mexico?

How Much Damage Did the Deepwater Horizon Spill Do to the Gulf of Mexico?: Scientific American.

What is the state of the Gulf of Mexico one year after the Deepwater Horizon blowout began?

By Melissa Gaskill of Nature News

In April 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and sank. With the pipe that had once channeled oil 1,400 meters up from the sea floor now broken, some 4.9 million barrels of oil, and an equivalent volume of gas, spewed out over three months, according to the US government. BP added around 9 million liters of chemical dispersants to the oil, roughly a third of it at depth.

The disaster happened near the nutrient-rich outflow from the Mississippi River delta, one of the most productive areas in a prolific gulf. Some 1,728 species feed and reproduce in this area, and many were breeding at the time, exposing vulnerable larvae and young to toxic oil. Nature examines the damage caused and response to the disaster one year on.

Is the clean-up finished?

The US government estimates that 1.24 million barrels of oil was recovered directly from the broken pipe, skimmed from the surface or burned. It estimates that another 1.2 million barrels “evaporated or dissolved”; 1.1 million formed surface slicks and tar balls, sank to the bottom, or washed up on beaches; 630,000 barrels dispersed naturally; and 770,000 barrels were chemically dispersed — although it is worth noting that dispersants do not remove oil from the environment but merely breaks it down into small droplets. Teams responding to the blowout removed oil from beaches, but not marshes, where clean-up efforts do more harm than good, destroying vegetation, compacting the soil, and driving oil into sediments, where it degrades more slowly.

Although the federal government’s Operational Science and Advisory Team reported in December that there was “no actionable oil in the water or sediments of the deep water or offshore zones”, it acknowledged that “quantitative estimates of remaining oil” were beyond its scope. Various studies indicate that significant quantities of oil remain at a depth of about 1,100 meters, and possibly on the sea floor. As recently as last week, oil was observed to still be present in marshes in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay.

“The clean-up won’t be complete and we won’t know the full environmental consequences for at least 40 years,” says Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity in Flagstaff, Arizona.

How much damage has been done to the environment?

The complex, legally entangled federal Natural Resource Damage Assessment — coordinated by an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — is ongoing, so the official jury remains out. But, says Curry, “damage is widespread and will persist for decades”.But oil and dispersants are toxic to both shallow and deep ecosystems, according to Larry McKinney, executive director of Texas A&M University’s Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, who predicts the spill’s effects will last for decades. The government counted significant numbers of dead animals: 6,104 birds, 609 sea turtles, and 100 marine mammals. But that only includes animals collected, Curry stresses. Actual mortality is likely to be much higher: scientists estimate that the carcasses gathered so far represent a fifth of the actual mortality figure for turtles, and at most 6% of cetaceans. The majority of animals that die either sink or are eaten, scientists explain, with only a tiny percentage washing ashore or being spotted at sea by observers.

Long-term effects will be harder to detect, but more insidious. If oil persists in ocean and marsh sediments, plants and animals will be exposed to its effects, and it will inevitably enter the food chain. “Some bird populations haven’t recovered more than 20 years after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska due to food chain disruption,” says Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society in Washington DC.

Studies have shown that dispersed oil is more toxic than oil or dispersant alone, and dispersant chemicals had never before been used at depth, so the effects are not yet known. Scientists are also still sorting out the effects of oil on the deep-sea environment.

What caused the accident?

Human error and equipment failure. “Complex systems such as deepwater drilling rigs fail in complex ways,” says Tad Patzek, chairman of the petroleum and geosystems engineering department at the University of Texas, Austin. “A confluence of many factors caused the well to blow,” he explains; these factors include cement failing to set, an insufficient rate of cement injection, misinterpretation of a negative-pressure test, and not setting a cement plug to isolate the bottom of the well before the test. Many point fingers at the failed blowout preventer, but Patzek says that the rig explosion damaged the drill pipe so severely it failed.

He lays ultimate blame on bad management, including lack of communication, changes to work flow and orders, and inadequate training. “In my mind, the biggest overall failure was not working according to a single imperative — safety.”

Is drilling in deep water still allowed in the Gulf?

“We will drill in deep water because that is where the oil is, and we need the oil,” says Patzek. In southern Louisiana, hit hardest by the spill, oil production represents a major part of the economy. Michel Claudet, president of Terrebonne Parish, says many of his constituents supported the federal government’s lifting of the drilling moratorium on 12 October 2010.

On 8 April 2011, the government approved the tenth permit for a post-spill deepwater well. Currently, three bills in the US House of Representatives would require more leases in the Gulf and off the Atlantic and West coasts and a boost in offshore production.

What measures have been put in place to stop it from happening again?

The Minerals Management Service, which regulated offshore drilling, has since gained a new director, Michael Bromwich, and name, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). But environmental groups claim the changes are purely cosmetic, and Bromwich told The New York Times that his agency lacks adequate funding, personnel and enforcement tools.

A commission named by US President Barack Obama to investigate the accident urged more funding for scientific research and more scientific assessments of offshore drilling applications. Patzek serves on BOEMRE’s Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations on offshore energy safety and facilitates collaborative research and training.

The accident made it clear that emergency equipment needs to be designed, constructed and staged at ports, ready on a moment’s notice, he adds. That has been done. “We have used the experience from this disaster and now have a lot more hardware. We are more prepared. Much of this technology existed but was not put together and not tested. BP tested it under fire and came up with the best design that capped the well.”

This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on April 19, 2011.

Scientist finds Gulf bottom still oily, dead

Scientist finds Gulf bottom still oily, dead – Yahoo! News.

WASHINGTON – Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a top scientist’s video and slides that she says demonstrate the oil isn’t degrading as hoped and has decimated life on parts of the sea floor.

That report is at odds with a recent report by the BP spill compensation czar that said nearly all will be well by 2012.

At a science conference in Washington Saturday, marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia aired early results of her December submarine dives around the BP spill site. She went to places she had visited in the summer and expected the oil and residue from oil-munching microbes would be gone by then. It wasn’t.

“There’s some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn’t seem to be degrading,” Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington. Her research and those of her colleagues contrasts with other studies that show a more optimistic outlook about the health of the gulf, saying microbes did great work munching the oil.

“Magic microbes consumed maybe 10 percent of the total discharge, the rest of it we don’t know,” Joye said, later adding: “there’s a lot of it out there.”

The head of the agency in charge of the health of the Gulf said Saturday that she thought that “most of the oil is gone.” And a Department of Energy scientist, doing research with a grant from BP from before the spill, said his examination of oil plumes in the water column show that microbes have done a “fairly fast” job of eating the oil. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab scientist Terry Hazen said his research differs from Joye’s because they looked at different places at different times.

Joye’s research was more widespread, but has been slower in being published in scientific literature.

In five different expeditions, the last one in December, Joye and colleagues took 250 cores of the sea floor and travelled across 2,600 square miles. Some of the locations she had been studying before the oil spill on April 20 and said there was a noticeable change. Much of the oil she found on the sea floor — and in the water column — was chemically fingerprinted, proving it comes from the BP spill. Joye is still waiting for results to show other oil samples she tested are from BP’s Macondo well.

She also showed pictures of oil-choked bottom-dwelling creatures. They included dead crabs and brittle stars — starfish like critters that are normally bright orange and tightly wrapped around coral. These brittle stars were pale, loose and dead. She also saw tube worms so full of oil they suffocated.

“This is Macondo oil on the bottom,” Joye said as she showed slides. “This is dead organisms because of oil being deposited on their heads.”

Joye said her research shows that the burning of oil left soot on the sea floor, which still had petroleum products. And even more troublesome was the tremendous amount of methane from the BP well that mixed into the Gulf and was mostly ignored by other researchers.

Joye and three colleagues last week published a study in Nature Geoscience that said the amount of gas injected into the Gulf was the equivalent of between 1.5 and 3 million barrels of oil.

“The gas is an important part of understanding what happened,” said Ian MacDonald of Florida State University.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco told reporters Saturday that “it’s not a contradiction to say that although most of the oil is gone, there still remains oil out there.”

Earlier this month, Kenneth Feinberg, the government’s oil compensation fund czar, said based on research he commissioned he figured the Gulf of Mexico would almost fully recover by 2012 — something Joye and Lubchenco said isn’t right.

“I’ve been to the bottom. I’ve seen what it looks like with my own eyes. It’s not going to be fine by 2012,” Joye told The Associated Press. “You see what the bottom looks like, you have a different opinion.”

NOAA chief Lubchenco said “even though the oil degraded relatively rapidly and is now mostly but not all gone, damage done to a variety of species may not become obvious for years to come.”

Lubchenco Saturday also announced the start of a Gulf restoration planning process to get the Gulf back to the condition it was on Apr. 19, the day before the spill. That program would eventually be paid for BP and other parties deemed responsible for the spill. This would be separate from an already begun restoration program that would improve all aspects of the Gulf, not just the oil spill, but has not been funded by the government yet, she said.

The new program, which is part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment program, is part of the oil spill litigation — or out-of-court settlement — in which the polluters pay for overall damage to the ecosystem and efforts to return it to normal. This is different than paying compensation to people and businesses directly damaged by the spill.

The process will begin with public meetings all over the region.

___

Online:

Joye’s website: http://www.marsci.uga.edu/directory/mjoye.htm

NOAA’s restoration site: http://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/

BP spill: Scientists scramble to find out where the oil went

BP spill: Scientists scramble to find out where the oil went | Environment | The Guardian.

Researchers set off in search of data on oil discharged in Gulf of Mexico, and a slice of the $500m fund pledged by BP

The twin drilling platforms rising from the waters above BP‘s blown well look like the brooding guard towers of a lost ruin, which in a sense they are: the relics of a disaster zone now turned into an open-air science quest to claim a slice of $500m (£316.5m) in research funds.

Ten days after BP’s well was plugged with cement, teams of scientists are scrambling to set sail in the Gulf to collect baseline data on the oil before it biodegrades and changes, as well as get noticed by the distributors of the fund pledged by BP for research into the ecological consequences of the spill.

Below deck on the Arctic Sunrise, five miles off the BP well, Rainer Amon, an ocean scientist at Texas A&M University at Galveston is looking over data on hydrocarbon and oxygen levels generated by sensors lowered to depths of about 1,000 metres.

It’s his second trip to the waters around the well since the BP spill. In June, Amon was part of a Texas A&M team that made a crescent-shaped tour around the well, finding high concentrations of methane gas as well as oil.

Instead of today’s deserted seas, his photos from June show dozens of oil response boats, and thick clouds of black smoke billowing from the surface of the water.

On his return voyage he is encountering a void. “If that oil and gas had been consumed by bacteria you would expect to see more oxygen depletion than what we have seen,” he said.

“Was it just a fluke that we found it, or is there an oil carpet on the ground?”

So where is the oil? It’s been two months since any new crude from BP’s well entered the Gulf. Independent estimates suggest 4.4m barrels of oil spewed out into the Gulf of Mexico, but there is no scientific agreement on its fate. “You could say it’s a mystery,” said Amon.

Did the oil sink to the bottom? A University of Georgia research expedition earlier this month discovered a thick coating of oil on the sea floor, 16 nautical miles from the BP well-head.

Is it floating in the depths? One team of researchers reported finding a deep sea plume of oil and natural gas the size of Manhattan, that was slow to degrade. A second study of the plume found the oil and gas were quickly being gobbled up by microbes.

Federal government agencies, meanwhile, have been seen to play down the long-term effects of the oil.

“We still have not got to the bottom of where the majority of the oil went,” said Adam Walters, a Greenpeace scientist. “The work is sound but the conclusions are really clutching at straws.”

The uncertainty about the fate of the oil has deepened the sense of urgency among scientists to gather evidence from the deep water and the ocean floor, and to begin weighing the effects of the spill on marine life.

That in turn has scientists clamouring for the release of the BP research funds, the bulk of which have yet to be awarded.

Amon, who faced a long wait for grant money to come through, got out to sea again by jumping on board a Greenpeace ship. The campaign group has been offering the Arctic Sunrise to research scientists. That was a definite attraction for Amon, who was otherwise facing a seven-month wait for a research grant – by which time the processes governing the oil that entered the Gulf would be well advanced.

Another A&M researcher on board, Cliff Nunnally, is hoping to gather samples from the sea floor.

In addition to the headstart on research, there is a cost incentive. Research vessels, depending on their equipment, can cost upwards of $30,000 a day, the biggest single expense on a scientific mission. Then again, as Amon notes, on a fully staffed research voyage, he would not be personally overseeing the winch lowering his massive steel-framed device into the depths.

Other traditions are being challenged in these early days of the quest for oil, fuelling suspicions among some scientists that the White House and BP are trying to dictate the agenda for the next generation of Gulf research.

At first, BP intended to follow standard academic protocols and hand control of the fund, which will be awarded over 10 years, to a consortium of independent scientists to review research proposals.

But the White House later instructed BP to involve Gulf governors, who have been pushing to direct money towards in-state researchers over the more prominent and widely recognised ocean science institutions. There are also concerns that politicians, rather than scientists and other technical experts, could define the parameters of further study.

But even with those reservations, there is a sense in the scientific community that the catastrophe of the BP oil spill is opening up an entirely new frontier for research in one of the most highly industrialised, yet biologically rich, marine environments on the planet.

A decade ago, Nunnally, then working on his master’s degree, was part of an ambitious product to conduct a census of marine life, on the ocean floor and in the depths, from Texas to the Florida coast.

The project was commissioned by the Minerals Management Service, which was the government agency overseeing offshore oil drilling until it was reorganised following the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The project took four years, but in all that time Nunnally said it never occurred to the scientists they would soon be out there again.

“For all the ship time and all the conversations that we had with our colleagues that is the one conversation we did not have: what will we do in 10 years’ time if there is an oil spill and we have to come out and do it all over again?”

Where did the oil go? Researchers point to sea floor

Where did the oil go? Researchers point to sea floor – CNN.com.

(CNN) — A team of researchers in the Gulf of Mexico say they found an oily layer as thick as two inches coating the sea floor in some places, and they believe it may be from the BP spill.

“I think what we’re seeing is oil that was on the surface, that has sedimented down to the bottom,” said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia.

Speaking by phone from a research vessel about 30 miles southeast of the former oil well, Joye said about a dozen core samples of the seabed were taken, at distances ranging from two miles to 80 miles from the site of the BP rupture.

She described the oil as “flocculent,” fluffy like fallen snow, and ranging in thickness from less than a quarter-inch to more than two inches.

In the samples that were brought up from the deep, Joye reported there were ominously few of the usual traces of life, like worms and various types of arthropods. She also speculated that fish and invertebrates that come down to the seabed to forage could be harmed by traces of the substance.

Joye emphasized that the findings were preliminary, and that only when the team was on land could they confirm whether the substance was indeed crude oil, and use “fingerprinting” to see if it had come from the BP well.

An analyst from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cautioned against jumping to conclusions before the samples are chemically analyzed.

“To find oil in the Gulf of Mexico, either in the sediments or in the water column, is not an unusual thing,” said Samuel Walker, technical data manger with the agency. “There’s spillage from other vessels, there’s leakage from pipelines… there are a lot of natural seeps.”

But Joye said explanations like natural seepage are unlikely, given that just a few months earlier, in the same area, her team found almost no evidence of oily sediment.

“It wasn’t here in May, right after the spill started,” she said. “This layer has developed over the past four months.”

NOAA spokesman Justin Kenney said the agency welcomes the efforts of independent researchers. Incident commander Thad Allen, the government’s point man on the BP oil spill, has said he is seeking a way to compile the findings of independent scientists to construct a “metaphorical MRI” showing where the oil has gone.

Government scientists have estimated that at least 200 million gallons of oil leaked from BP’s damaged well, but 74 percent of it subsequently evaporated, broke up, or was skimmed or burned off.

Those estimates have been questioned by several independent researchers over the last month. But Kenney said even if the seabed sediment turns out to be BP oil, that would not contradict the government’s estimate, because it could simply be part of the 26 percent of the oil estimated to remain at large.

NOAA says it is still probing the waters for residual traces and plumes.

“We see the indications of this oil still down there,” said David Valentine, a researcher with the agency. “But we don’t know exactly what the concentrations are, how biodegraded it is.”