Four Years After Deepwater Horizon Spill, Tar Balls Continue to Wash Up on Shore

Researchers have analyzed oil-soaked sand patties near the Gulf of Mexico to track oil from the spill.

Not a Girl Scout cookie.
National Journal
Marina Koren
See more stories about...
Marina Koren
June 13, 2014, 11:02 a.m.

In salt marshes along the Gulf of Mex­ico, everything’s still com­ing up oil.

Four years after an ex­plo­sion on a BP-op­er­ated Deep­wa­ter Ho­ri­zon drilling rig spewed 210 mil­lion gal­lons of oil in­to the wa­ter, the sub­stance con­tin­ues to wash ashore in the form of tar balls, or oil-soaked sand pat­ties.

How do we know this oil is from this par­tic­u­lar spill? Sci­ent­ists at the Woods Hole Ocean­o­graph­ic In­sti­tu­tion and Bi­gelow Labor­at­ory for Ocean Sci­ences in Maine have de­veloped a tech­nique that can de­tect oil from spe­cif­ic spills years after they hap­pen and re­veal how that oil has changed over time in the sea. Every oil reser­voir has its own spe­cif­ic amounts of bio­mark­ers, which are mo­lecu­lar fossils that sci­ent­ists can use for identi­fy­ing the source of spills, like hu­man fin­ger­prints.

Re­search­ers were able to con­nect the bio­mark­ers found in oil-filled sand clumps, col­lec­ted over a 28-month peri­od, that washed up on shore from the Gulf of Mex­ico near the Deep­wa­ter Ho­ri­zon spill in 2010. Some had de­graded since then, which oc­curs after pro­longed ex­pos­ure to the nat­ur­al en­vir­on­ment.

“These bio­mark­ers are not as re­si­li­ent as once thought, and they may provide a fu­ture win­dow in­to de­term­in­ing how much, and how quickly, these oil com­pon­ents may linger in the en­vir­on­ment when ex­posed to air, sun­light, and the ele­ments,” said Chris Reddy, a sci­ent­ist at the Woods Hole Ocean­o­graph­ic In­sti­tu­tion and a coau­thor of the sand-patty study, pub­lished in the journ­al En­vir­on­ment­al Sci­ence & Tech­no­logy on Thursday.

This kind of tech­nique gives sci­ent­ists an idea of what hap­pens to oil once it hits the high seas — and stays there. Much of the oil from the 2010 spill has either de­graded, evap­or­ated, or been re­moved by hu­mans, and when it reaches shore these days, it doesn’t come in its usu­al li­quid form. “Al­though some Ma­condo [well] ma­ter­i­al does con­tin­ue to be iden­ti­fied, the amounts and fre­quen­cies are much lower than be­fore, which is why it is im­port­ant to dis­tin­guish it from oily ma­ter­i­al from oth­er sources, in­clud­ing the many nat­ur­al seeps in the Gulf,” BP spokes­man Jason Ry­an told Na­tion­al Journ­al.

However, ex­perts say that at least 60 per­cent of oil from the spill re­mains un­ac­coun­ted for in the ocean.

This story has been up­dated.

What We're Following See More »
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
2 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
1 days ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SECOND PLACE
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.

Source:
×