A tale of two recent spills--comparison of 2014 Galveston Bay and 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill residues.
ABSTRACT: Managing oil spill residues washing onto sandy beaches is a common worldwide environmental problem. In this study, we have analyzed the first-arrival oil spill residues collected from two Gulf of Mexico (GOM) beach systems following two recent oil spills: the 2014 Galveston Bay (GB) oil spill, and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill. This is the first study to provide field observations and chemical characterization data for the 2014 GB oil spill. Here we compare the physical and chemical characteristics of GB oil spill samples with DWH oil spill samples and present their similarities and differences. Our field observations indicate that both oil spills had similar shoreline deposition patterns; however, their physical and chemical characteristics differed considerably. We highlight these differences, discuss their implications, and interpret GB data in light of lessons learned from previously published DWH oil spill studies. These analyses are further used to assess the long-term fate of GB oil spill residues and their potential environmental impacts.
Project description:Major oil spills are catastrophic events that immensely affect the environment and society, yet determining their spatial extent is a highly complex task. During the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) blowout, ~149,000 km2 of the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) was covered by oil slicks and vast areas of the Gulf were closed for fishing. Yet, the satellite footprint does not necessarily capture the entire oil spill extent. Here, we use in situ observations and oil spill transport modeling to examine the full extent of the DWH spill, focusing on toxic-to-biota (i.e., marine organisms) oil concentration ranges. We demonstrate that large areas of the GoM were exposed to invisible and toxic oil that extended beyond the boundaries of the satellite footprint and the fishery closures. With a global increase in petroleum production-related activities, a careful assessment of oil spills' full extent is necessary to maximize environmental and public safety.
Project description:Oil spills can lead to irreversible environmental degradation and are a potential hazard to human health. We study how onshore oil spills affect neonatal and infant mortality by combining spatial data from the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor with Demographic and Health Surveys. To identify a causal effect, we compare siblings born to the same mother, conceived before and after a nearby oil spill. We find that nearby oil spills that occur before conception increase neonatal mortality by 38.3 deaths per 1,000 live births, which corresponds to an increase of around 100% on the sample mean. The effect is fairly uniform across girls and boys, socio-economic backgrounds, and locations. We show that this effect is not driven by events related to oil production or violent conflict. Rather, our results are consistent with medical and epidemiological evidence showing that exposure to hydrocarbons can pose risks to fetal development. We provide further evidence suggesting that the effects of oil spills on neonatal mortality persist for several years after the occurrence of an oil spill.
Project description:Marine environments are frequently exposed to oil spills as a result of transportation, oil drilling or fuel usage. Whereas large oil spills and their effects have been widely documented, more common and recurrent small spills typically escape attention. To fill this important gap in the assessment of oil-spill effects, we performed two independent supervised full sea releases of 5?m(3) of crude oil, complemented by on-board mesocosm studies and sampling of accidentally encountered slicks. Using rapid on-board biological assays, we detect high bioavailability and toxicity of dissolved and dispersed oil within 24?h after the spills, occurring fairly deep (8?m) below the slicks. Selective decline of marine plankton is observed, equally relevant for early stages of larger spills. Our results demonstrate that, contrary to common thinking, even small spills have immediate adverse biological effects and their recurrent nature is likely to affect marine ecosystem functioning.
Project description:Oil spills resulting from maritime accidents pose a poorly understood risk to the Arctic environment. We propose a novel probabilistic method to quantitatively assess these risks. Our method accounts for spatiotemporally varying population distributions, the spreading of oil, and seasonally varying species-specific exposure potential and sensitivity to oil. It quantifies risk with explicit uncertainty estimates, enables one to compare risks over large geographic areas, and produces information on a meaningful scale for decision-making. We demonstrate the method by assessing the short-term risks oil spills pose to polar bears, ringed seals, and walrus in the Kara Sea, the western part of the Northern Sea Route. The risks differ considerably between species, spatial locations, and seasons. Our results support current aspirations to ban heavy fuel oil in the Arctic but show that we should not underestimate the risks of lighter oils either, as these oils can pollute larger areas than heavier ones. Our results also highlight the importance of spatially explicit season-specific oil spill risk assessment in the Arctic and that environmental variability and the lack of data are a major source of uncertainty related to the oil spill impacts.
Project description:We investigated the effects of a warmer climate, and seasonal trends, on the fate of oil spilled in the Arctic. Three well blowout scenarios, two shipping accidents and a pipeline rupture were considered. We used ensembles of numerical simulations, using the OSCAR oil spill model, with environmental data for the periods 2009-2012 and 2050-2053 (representing a warmer future) as inputs to the model. Future atmospheric forcing was based on the IPCC's A1B scenario, with the ocean data generated by the hydrodynamic model SINMOD. We found differences in "typical" outcome of a spill in a warmer future compared to the present, mainly due to a longer season of open water. We have demonstrated that ice cover is extremely important for predicting the fate of an Arctic oil spill, and find that oil spills in a warming climate will in some cases result in greater areal coverage and shoreline exposure.
Project description:OBJECTIVES:Long-term studies of oil spill responders are urgently needed as oil spills continue to occur. To this end, we established the prospective Deepwater Horizon (DWH) Oil Spill Coast Guard Cohort study. METHODS:DWH oil spill responders (n=8696) and non-responders (n=44?823) who were members of the US Coast Guard (20 April-17 December 2010) were included. This cohort uses both prospective, objective health data from military medical encounters and cross-sectional survey data. Here, we describe the cohort, present adjusted prevalence ratios (PRs) estimating cross-sectional associations between crude oil exposure (none, low/medium, high) and acute physical symptoms, and present adjusted relative risks (RRs) based on longitudinal medical encounter data (2010-2012) for responders/non-responders and responders exposed/not exposed to crude oil. RESULTS:Responders and non-responders in this large cohort (n=53?519) have similar characteristics. Crude oil exposure was reported by >50% of responders. We found statistically significant associations for crude oil exposure with coughing (PRhigh=1.78), shortness of breath (PRhigh=2.30), wheezing (PRhigh=2.32), headaches (PRhigh=1.46), light-headedness/dizziness (PRhigh=1.96), skin rash/itching (PRhigh=1.87), diarrhoea (PRhigh=1.76), stomach pain (PRhigh=1.67), nausea/vomiting (PRhigh=1.48) and painful/burning urination (PRhigh=2.89) during deployment. Longitudinal analyses revealed that responders had elevated RRs for dermal conditions (RR=1.09), as did oil-exposed responders for chronic respiratory conditions (RR=1.32), asthma (RR=1.83) and dermal conditions (RR=1.21). CONCLUSIONS:We found positive associations between crude oil exposure and various acute physical symptoms among responders, as well as longer term health effects. This cohort is well positioned to evaluate both short-term and long-term effects of oil spill exposures using both self-reported and clinical health data.
Project description:Deep marine oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) in the Gulf of Mexico have the potential to drastically impact marine systems. Crude oil contamination in marine systems remains a concern, especially for countries around the Mediterranean Sea with off shore oil production. The goal of this study was to investigate the response of indigenous microbial communities to crude oil in the deep Eastern Mediterranean Sea (E. Med.) water column and to minimize potential bias associated with storage and shifts in microbial community structure from sample storage. 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing was combined with GeoChip metagenomic analysis to monitor the microbial community changes to the crude oil and dispersant in on-ship microcosms set up immediately after water collection. After 3 days of incubation at 14?°C, the microbial communities from two different water depths: 824?m and 1210?m became dominated by well-known oil degrading bacteria. The archaeal population and the overall microbial community diversity drastically decreased. Similarly, GeoChip metagenomic analysis revealed a tremendous enrichment of genes related to oil biodegradation, which was consistent with the results from the DWH oil spill. These results highlight a rapid microbial adaption to oil contamination in the deep E. Med., and indicate strong oil biodegradation potential.
Project description:Chemical dispersants are one of many tools used to mitigate the overall environmental impact of oil spills. In principle, dispersants break up floating oil into small droplets that disperse into the water column where they are subject to multiple fate and transport processes. The effectiveness of dispersants typically decreases as oil weathers in the environment. This decrease in effectiveness is often attributed to evaporation and emulsification, with the contribution of photochemical weathering assumed to be negligible. Here, we aim to test this assumption using Macondo well oil released during the Deepwater Horizon spill as a case study. Our results indicate that the effects of photochemical weathering on Deepwater Horizon oil properties and dispersant effectiveness can greatly outweigh the effects of evaporative weathering. The decrease in dispersant effectiveness after light exposure was principally driven by the decreased solubility of photo-oxidized crude oil residues in the solvent system that comprises COREXIT EC9500A. Kinetic modeling combined with geospatial analysis demonstrated that a considerable fraction of aerial applications targeting Deepwater Horizon surface oil had low dispersant effectiveness. Collectively, the results of this study challenge the paradigm that photochemical weathering has a negligible impact on the effectiveness of oil spill response and provide critical insights into the "window of opportunity" to apply chemical dispersants in response to oil spills in sunlit waters.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>The Deepwater Horizon (DH) blowout resulted in fisheries closings across the Gulf of Mexico. Federal agencies, in collaboration with impacted Gulf states, developed a protocol to determine when it is safe to reopen fisheries based on sensory and chemical analyses of seafood. All federal waters have been reopened, yet concerns have been raised regarding the robustness of the protocol to identify all potential harmful exposures and protect the most sensitive populations.<h4>Objectives</h4>We aimed to assess this protocol based on comparisons with previous oil spills, published testing results, and current knowledge regarding chemicals released during the DH oil spill.<h4>Methods</h4>We performed a comprehensive review of relevant scientific journal articles and government documents concerning seafood contamination and oil spills and consulted with academic and government experts.<h4>Results</h4>Protocols to evaluate seafood safety before reopening fisheries have relied on risk assessment of health impacts from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposures, but metal contamination may also be a concern. Assumptions used to determine levels of concern (LOCs) after oil spills have not been consistent across risk assessments performed after oil spills. Chemical testing results after the DH oil spill suggest PAH levels are at or below levels reported after previous oil spills, and well below LOCs, even when more conservative parameters are used to estimate risk.<h4>Conclusions</h4>We recommend use of a range of plausible risk parameters to set bounds around LOCs, comparisons of post-spill measurements with baseline levels, and the development and implementation of long-term monitoring strategies for metals as well as PAHs and dispersant components. In addition, the methods, results, and uncertainties associated with estimating seafood safety after oil spills should be communicated in a transparent and timely manner, and stakeholders should be actively involved in developing a long-term monitoring strategy.
Project description:Prior to Hurricane Isaac making landfall along the Gulf of Mexico coast in August 2012, local and state officials were concerned that the hurricane would mobilize submerged oiled-materials from the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) spill. In this study, we investigated materials washed ashore following the hurricane to determine if it affected the chemical composition or density of oil-containing sand patties regularly found on Gulf Coast beaches. While small changes in sand patty density were observed in samples collected before and after the hurricane, these variations appear to have been driven by differences in sampling location and not linked to the passing of Hurricane Isaac. Visual and chemical analysis of sand patties confirmed that the contents was consistent with oil from the Macondo well. Petroleum hydrocarbon signatures of samples collected before and after the hurricane showed no notable changes. In the days following Hurricane Isaac, dark-colored mats were also found on the beach in Fort Morgan, AL, and community reports speculated that these mats contained oil from the DWH spill. Chemical analysis of these mat samples identified n-alkanes but no other petroleum hydrocarbons. Bulk and ?13C organic carbon analyses indicated mat samples were comprised of marshland peat and not related to the DWH spill. This research indicates that Hurricane Isaac did not result in a notable change the composition of oil delivered to beaches at the investigated field sites. This study underscores the need for improved communications with interested stakeholders regarding how to differentiate oiled from non-oiled materials. This is especially important given the high cost of removing oiled debris and the increasing likelihood of false positives as oiled-materials washing ashore from a spill become less abundant over time.