[Coral-List] BP Oil Spill Response

Melbourne Briscoe Mel at briscoe.com
Fri May 7 16:14:48 EDT 2010

Well said. Thank you for stepping forward.
Now, put on your flak jacket!

Mel Briscoe
OceanGeeks, LLC

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Steve LeGore
Sent: Friday, May 07, 2010 3:24 PM
To: Coral List
Subject: [Coral-List] BP Oil Spill Response

I am going to contribute something that may well be unpopular, but I believe
it must be said.  I implore the scientific community to abstain from crying
wolf about the BP oil spill.  Cries of "disaster" and "destruction of
fisheries" will, I believe, ultimately return to bite us in our collective

Look, I am not stupid or uninformed.  My Ph.D. dissertation research at the
UW (Seattle) concerned toxicity of Prudhoe Bay crude.  I have responded to
several oil spills and I managed the year-long field sampling response to
the Ekofisk Bravo Blowout in the North Sea - at the time the largest spill
in history.  I have participated in training oil spill responders, and I
evaluated IMO response procedures and policies to the Desert Strom spills in
the Persian Gulf.

The BP spill is of course a problem that should not have happened.  Spilled
crude oil makes a mess; it oils birds and turtles and is potentially
devastating to air-breathing marine mammals.  BP must be held accountable
for its shortcomings, which are many and profound.  BP should be encouraged
to return to the days when its Environmental Affairs Department reported to
its Chairman of the Board rather than its PR Department Head - as it did
when BP earned the respect of the world's entire environmental community.

However, we must remember that crude oil is not as toxic as refined
petroleum products.  It is a mix of many hydrocarbons, including many heavy
complex compounds as well as lighter fractions.  Leaving aside potential
carcinogenicity, it is the latter that generally exhibit toxicity.
Fortunately, crude oil floats, and in doing so it provides opportunity for
the more toxic lighter fractions to differentially evaporate into the
atmosphere, removing them from the water column environment.  These same
lighter fractions tend to dissolve into the water column, but fortunately
they do so only to a limited extent.  They are, almost by definition,
hydrophobic.  The only light component that dissolves to an appreciable
extent is benzene, which, if I remember correctly, can reach 17 ppm in a
super saturated state.  This means that there is a profound limit to the
depth at which these compounds can exert their toxic impacts.  They are
generally limited to the top few centimeters of the water column, which is
of concern for floating eggs and some other planktonic components.

Yes, the rough weather and wind following the spill will tend to exacerbate
these issues, causing more mixing and potentially affecting availability of
toxins to marine organisms.  And yes, the extreme depth at which this oil is
released in the marine environment may well create unprecedented
opportunities for mixing and dissolution.   These factors may well enhance
impacts of the spill in the GoM, but what concerns me much more profoundly
is the wholesale use of dispersants.  The furor to control the spill, and
BP's concern for its public image with a  view to oil-coated shorelines,
have resulted in pouring amounts of dispersants into the marine environment
that I would have personally thought unthinkable before this spill.
Dispersants are in themselves toxic and run the risk of disrupting
lipid-based cell membranes of fish eggs and other plankton.  They also
emulsify spilled hydrocarbons, making them more biologically available in
the water column..  I question whether BP would have used so much of these
ill-advised compounds if public pressure had been more measured.

Oil spills are nasty when they reach shore.  There is no question about it,
and the oil will indeed cause many environmental problems in these
environments for many years to come, depending on how much oil reaches these
areas..  But the oil will most likely NOT cause destruction of all GoM
fisheries for the foreseeable future.  Deepwater fisheries likely will be
affected more by fouling of gear by oil than by oil killing the target fish.

Yes, this spill is awful and was almost certainly preventable.  And yes, it
will likely cause very unfortunate damage to the marine environment and
marine fisheries, especially in shoreline environments that it may strike.
And yes, BP and its partners must be held fully accountable.  But the spill
will not turn the GoM into a biological desert.  By screaming "Murder" I
believe well-meaning environmentalists run the risk of providing "Drill Baby
Drill" people an argument when the ultimate environmental effects fail to
measure up to extreme panic calls.  Let us please be measured and realistic
so as to not provide a free advantage to those who would overlook the real
issues involved here.

Steve LeGore

Steve LeGore, Ph.D.
LeGore Environmental Associates, Inc.
2804 Gulf Drive N.
Holmes Beach, Florida 34217 USA
Tel: 941/778-4650
Fax: 941/778-4761
Cell: 941/447-8010
GMT + 4 hrs
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