CSIRO report suggests few long-term effects on ocean
After a damning report into the cause of the BP oil spill, CSIRO scientists have revealed that damage to the open ocean is minimal.
While oil sludge fouled beaches, the billions of barrels of oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico after last April’s explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig were widely distributed at sea.
“Taken as given that it’s a terrible disaster that should have been avoided, the long-term impact may not be as bad as the current public opinion might think,” said Andrew Ross, a geochemist with CSIRO Petroleum and Geothermal Research in Perth.
That’s undoubtedly good news for BP. The 39-page “working paper” from the Oil Spill Commission, released last Friday, found a series of poor decisions led to the explosion that killed 11 people.
Along with CSIRO analytical chemist Xiubin Qi, Dr Ross led the eight-member scientific team hired by BP Exploration and Production to monitor the leading edge of the oil spill. Using satellite data and a prototype CSIRO hydrocarbon sensor array — developed to detect natural seeps of hydrocarbons such as crude oil — the team monitored the slick and the water chemistry down to a depth of 2m.
During the 15-week survey the team surveyed more than 7500 nautical miles, aboard an 83m oil service vessel.
Working around the clock, Dr Ross and his colleagues collected, analysed and transmitted data results to the Unified Area Command overseeing the spill response. The UAC included representatives from BP, the US Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Authority.
According to Dr Ross, most of the oil either washed up on beaches, was consumed by microbes or rapidly evaporated.
“We saw occasional touches of mousse — bad stuff composed of tar balls, etcetera — and occasional light sheen,” he told The Australian.
“Doing the geochemistry on the mousse, we found it had lost a lot of the oil material and was very waxy.”
The multi-million-dollar contract with BP came purely by chance. While attending a scientific meeting in New Orleans days before the April 24 blowout, Dr Ross discussed the sensor technology with Peter Carragher, then BP vice-president of geoscience exploration.
“By the time I got home, things had gone horribly wrong,” said Dr Ross, adding that he contacted Dr Carragher. “Within 12 hours I had an email back saying, ‘please mobilise your team’.”