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Earth Science

Oil Dispersants Used During Gulf Spill Degrade Slowly In Cold Water 61

Posted by Soulskill
from the now-to-bring-out-the-oil-dispersant-dispersants dept.
MTorrice writes "During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, clean up crews applied millions of liters of dispersants to break up the oil. At the time, the public and some scientists worried about the environmental effects of the chemicals, in particular how long they would last in the deep sea. According to a new Environmental Protection Agency study, the key active ingredient in the dispersants degrades very rapidly under conditions similar to those found at the Gulf surface during the spill. Meanwhile, in the much colder temperatures found in the deep sea, the breakdown is quite slow. The chemicals' persistence at deep-sea and Arctic temperatures suggests more research is needed on their toxicity, the researchers say."
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Oil Dispersants Used During Gulf Spill Degrade Slowly In Cold Water

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @07:38PM (#42889751)
    They were screwed either way. If they hadn't used them, there'd be a congressional inquiry asking why we didn't bring all the technology we possibly could to bear on this horrible accident. There's always a line of people who are salivating to second-guess whatever decision gets made. I'm guessing there are a lot of pelicans who, if they could talk, would be praising the use of the dispersants.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @08:10PM (#42890081)

      How about we stop letting corporations run shoddy operations to save a few bucks and keep the oil from getting in the water to begin with?

      • by Cryacin (657549) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @08:39PM (#42890421)
        On a long enough timescale, no matter how well funded, mistakes will occur.
        • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @09:44PM (#42891015) Homepage Journal

          On a long enough timescale, no matter how well funded, mistakes will occur.

          Sure, but when the rewards are greater than the cost of the consequences of the mistakes, those mistakes become more frequent.

          In fact, they become part of the business model.

          I mean, who knew that allowing the banking industry to engage in limitless derivatives investing could possibly cause any problems to the economy? Who could have predicted that an earthquake and tsunami could kill the power to an old, poorly-maintained nuclear plant, causing the release of radiation? Why would anyone think that turning firearms into consumer products as readily available as cell phones might end up in a society with a lot of gun violence? What moron would think that injecting toxic chemicals into bedrock under high pressures near populated areas could possibly cause contamination of ground water, risks to air quality, the migration of gases and fracturing chemicals to the surface, surface contamination from spills and flowback or that those might cause health risks?

          I mean, mistakes will occur.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            A $4.5 billion penalty is hardly a slap on the wrist. BP has set aside about $38 billion to settle up on the disaster in addition to the fines. There has never been an oil well worth that much money in history. It will certainly have an affect on the way they conduct their business in the future. Statistics do not bear out that ubiquitous gun ownership leads to dramatic increases in gun violence, in fact, quite the opposite is true. And while fracking is certainly not the panacea that many in the gas indust
          • by Type44Q (1233630)

            Why would anyone think that turning firearms into consumer products as readily available as cell phones might end up in a society with a lot of gun violence?

            I like how you tainted a punchbowl of otherwise completely reasonable and objective common sense observations by slipping in your little patently-dishonest pro-establishment turd; you sly devil, you! ;)

            • by PopeRatzo (965947)

              I like how you tainted a punchbowl of otherwise completely reasonable and objective common sense observations by slipping in your little patently-dishonest pro-establishment turd; you sly devil, you!

              One man's common sense is another man's instrument of wholesale slaughter in a kindergarten.

          • Sure, but when the rewards are greater than the cost of the consequences of the mistakes, those mistakes become more frequent.

            BP has already paid out tens of billions in fines and compensation. There are plenty more lawsuits in the pipeline, with a potential final payout of about $90 billion. That is an immense amount of money, far more than the GDP of most countries. You can be pretty sure that the oil companies are going to be a lot more careful in the future.

            • by PopeRatzo (965947)

              BP has already paid out tens of billions in fines and compensation

              And taken a nice tax abatement for it.

              Plus, the payouts have not been that much. They have set aside that much, which still sits on their books as an asset, but the payouts have been glacial.

            • "A lot more careful" in the future? They certainly weren't much more careful than the Ixtoc spill 30 years ago, where a set of maneuvers eerily similar to those attempted to plug the BP spill were employed (and all failed similarly). If BP didn't want lawsuits, it shouldn't have dumped millions of gallons of a neurotoxic carcinogen to cover its own liability (amount of oil spilled). Or maybe it shouldn't have put 10,000+ claimants' data on a single laptop only to magically "lose" it. If corporations are p
      • That's pretty easy to do... stop using oil... wait, what's that? You don't want to be inconvenienced? Oh yea... that's why this happened.

      • by Lotana (842533)

        Really?! Oh I think you will change your tune if the price at the pump goes up by a few dollars. Well, maybe you won't since you might be a millionaire, but quite a few people will.

        Face it, we WANT our oil as cheap as possible. Lower price of fuel means lower price of everything else. And lower price of living translates to more money available for spending on leisure activities.

        If that means we need to exterminate all the cute seals to get cheaper energy, then so be it.

      • by bbelt16ag (744938)
        hearhear!
      • Wasn't it drilling regulations that pushed drilling further and further offshore to much deeper (and risky) areas?

        Anyway, there's vastly more oil migrating into the ocean from natural seepage than from the odd oil spill, so if you don't want oil in the water perhaps that's a better place to start :p

        http://oils.gpa.unep.org/facts/natural-sources.htm [unep.org]

        • At the time of the spill, there were 3000+ rigs in the gulf. Only about 30 of those were deepwater. No, "natural seepage" will not cause millions of gallons of gas to drift out into the ocean every year, nor will "natural seeepage" destroy the oceanfloor habitat and leave a layer of toxic oil/dispersant sludge mixed with dead marine life several feet thick as this spill has done. Is someone paying you to post this?
          • No, "natural seepage" will not cause millions of gallons of gas to drift out into the ocean every year,

            Natural seepage in the gulf of mexico is about 140,000 tonnes a year, or 1 million barrels of oil. So, yes it does. Ok, it's only a fifth of the amount from the deepwater spill, but it's constant rather than one-off. Link: http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10388&page=70 [nap.edu]

            At the time of the spill, the liability was limited to 75 million bucks. That's definitely one regulation which increases risk taking!

            Is someone paying you to post this?

            Nope, you can remove you tinfoil hat now

    • by MtHuurne (602934) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @08:27PM (#42890283) Homepage

      Given that both using and not using the chemicals has drawbacks and that it is difficult to make good decisions at a time of crisis, isn't it a good thing this study is done now? That way, when another spill happens, there is more knowledge to base decisions on.

      • ..is to BP, which couldn't as easily hide the amount of oil spilled--the only thing by which it is liable. To anyone who actually lives around the area, the spraying of the neurotoxic carcinogen corexit is quite harmful. "Isn't it a good thing this study is done now?" You're waxing about how great it is we can assess what happened after the fact of a disaster, when BP couldn't even learn from the Ixtoc spill 30 years ago? That time, all the same techniques were employed with similar failures. When anothe
    • by Anonymous Coward

      You and the mod who gave you Insightful need to read at least the bloody summary.

      It's not a criticism of using it in the gulf. It's saying we probably can't use it in the deep sea, and crucially in the Arctic where we're still discussing whether we've got good enough kit to handle the inevitable spills.

    • by andrew3 (2250992)

      I'm guessing there are a lot of pelicans who, if they could talk, would be praising the use of the dispersants.

      Perhaps not, there's some research that could suggest that the dispersants could have made the disaster worse [motherjones.com].

      There's always a line of people who are salivating to second-guess whatever decision gets made.

      So we shouldn't be testing these things and being critical of how disasters are handled? That's how progress is made, and how we can improve for the next time it happens.

    • How about a congressional inquiry into why BP continued spraying Corexit after the EPA told them to stop? If there were pelicans who'd touched corexit (let alone the toxic mix that results from corexit and oil combined), they'd probably be dead right now, so spare me the bullshit.
  • by RocketRabbit (830691) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @08:33PM (#42890339)

    The use of dispersants (really, the term should be "submergants") just caused the oil to sink to the sea floor. This in no way mitigates the actual problem, and may in fact compound it over time. However, it did allow the EPA, the Obama administration, and BP to rehabilitate their severely tarnished images, because this was a problem that you couldn't see easily.

    Gulf seafood is off the menu for millions of people now, and into the foreseeable future, because these "dispersants" just happen to be extremely toxic to humans.

    Unfortunately, we appear to have learned nothing and will probably use this kind of sweeping under the rug tactic when future spills happen.

    • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @09:12PM (#42890741)

      There is some logic to the use of these materials.

      After all most of the life in aquatic environments is on or near the surface. The most important ecologies are the salt marshes and the top 200 meters or so of the ocean (epipelalogic zone) which is sunlit. It is where all the action is. 90% of life is found in this top layer. It is where the most complex and presumably vulnerable life forms are found.

      So submerging the oil potentially reduces the harm that a spill may cause.

      • Yes, the oil being on top blocks the sunlight directly under it. However, the density of oil makes it possible to collect it from the top of the ocean without extremely complicated measures.

        Another factor to remember is that most of the area where the oil leaked was shallower than 200m anyway.

        • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:39AM (#42892669) Homepage Journal

          However, the density of oil makes it possible to collect it from the top of the ocean without extremely complicated measures.

          Yes ... but ... see, you're making perfect sense here, so that's where you've gone awry.

          There are ships that can suck in the oil slicks and ocean water, dump 97% of the oil into the hold and pump the mostly clean water back into the sea, repeating the process as necessary.

          However, the EPA demanded that in the Macondo spill they not return that 3% water back to the ocean, but instead made them send out tankers to be filled up with the 3% water, which were then transported back to shore for decon.

          The obvious problem there was that the rate of processing of the sea water was limited by how fast those tankers could get out and back and unload, and what the onshore capacity was and what the onshore processing rate was. Being all finite quantities the rate was lowered tremendously from its potential.

          So, using dispersants was the next-least-bad. I used to know their names, but one of them was much less toxic than the other two. Still, the oil separating ships operating at full capacity would have been much better for the environment, but the government was here to help.

          • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

            by RocketRabbit (830691)

            You would not want to be exposed to vapors of any of the "dispersants" used during the gulf spill, let alone get them on your skin, mucous membranes, or for fuck's sake ingest them. Aconite is more poisonous than belladonna, but you don't want to eat either one. Same thing here.

          • The Obama administration's folly (other than being helpful to BP in almost every way, including having government officials spout their bogus numbers on a whim), disallowing regulations present in much of europe (see "dead man's switch") that were removed under the Bush administration, and not doing anything to punish BP after it disobeyed the EPA and continued to spray Corexit despite being told to stop. Easy for you to say using millions of gallons of a neurotoxic carcinogen was the "next-least-bad" choi
            • What do you suppose the real function government is?

              I'm going with wealth transfer and resource extraction.

    • But I agree, BP used it to make the spill appear less severe on the surface.

      http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/12/chemical-dispersant-made-bps-gulf-oilspill-52-times-more-toxic [motherjones.com]

      A new study finds that adding Corexit 9500A to Macondo oil—as BP did in the course of trying to disperse its 2010 oilspill disaster—made the mixture 52 times more toxic than oil alone. The results are from toxicology tests in the lab and appear in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution.

    • Dispersants are basically soap -- the chemicals in Corexit and similar dispersants are the same as you'll find in bottles of Mr Muscle and other household cleansers living under the kitchen sink. They work by breaking bulk oil into small droplets which increases the effective surface area of the oil and gives the bacteria that normally degrade oil a better opportunity to do their job properly. They don't cause the oil to submerge, a neat trick if it could be achieved given that crude oil is a lot denser tha

      • by nojayuk (567177)

        Edit: "crude oil is a lot less dense than seawater".

      • Funny that BP's PR teams also tried to claim dispersant just soap--why is there incentive for you to repeat their nonsense? In reality Corexit and oil make a muck that falls to the ocean floor--a layer of toxic muck and dead marine life several feet thick in some places. There is NOTHING to indicate Corexit allows bacteria to "do their job properly". If you're not being paid to write this garbage, you should be, I'm sure some of that several hundred mil BP spent on PR cleanup rather than actual cleanup aft
      • That's fucking bullshit. He a look at the MSDS for Corexit. The shit is not only carcinogenic but causes red blood cells to fall apart.

        Yes, soap is a "dispersant" but not all dispersants are soap.

  • I'm not sure why such a negative spin is being attached to these stories.

    As our press release clearly stated, new Corexit Ice(tm)(r), in 'fresh blast' or 'glacial menthol' scents, works harder, longer(tm) to protect pristine arctic environments. Apparently, eco-fascists want penguins to die, oil-soaked, when our competitor's inferior dispersants break down quickly under cold weather conditions...

  • Chemical reactions slow down at colder temperatures
    I learned that 40 years ago
    Why do you think they invented refrigerators

  • Wouldn't coagulant be more appropriate?

    Oh, duh! They're called dispersants because they cause oil to be out of sight and out of mind - resting in the water column rather than causing financial and political turmoil on the surface.

  • But cant this make them easy to still pick up with a proper machine to then centrifuge the oil from the chemical...just sayin?

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