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 »
LOGISTICS, TRAFFIC AT ISSUE
Everyone’s Taking Their Best Shots at Philly
50 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

Not since Eagles fans booed Santa Claus have this many people been dismayed at Philadelphia. Traffic gridlock, poor logistics, and the inevitable summer heat and thunderstorms are drawing the ire of convention goers, as "peeved" delegates complained about "Homerian odysseys" to get from place to place. "On Twitter, out-of-town media complained about the logistics of the convention, spread out between the sports complex in South Philadelphia, media tents a hike away, and the daytime events at the Convention Center in Center City."

Source:
PRIEST KILLED IN SMALL NORTHERN TOWN
France Wakes Up to More Terrorism
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Two attackers killed a priest with a blade and seriously wounded another hostage in a church in northern France on Tuesday before being shot dead by French police. The attack took place during morning mass at the Saint-Etienne parish church, south of Rouen in Normandy. Five people were initially taken hostage." The case has been referred to anti-terrorism officials in Paris.

Source:
6PM VOTE
Roll Call Sets the Stage for More Drama
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Sometimes, unity is procedural. Mr. Sanders’s delegates will get the chance to back him in a roll-call vote from the convention floor on Tuesday, a largely symbolic gesture intended to recognize the breadth of Mr. Sanders’s support as the former rival campaigns negotiate an awkward peace." Around 6 p.m., they'll begin calling the states to vote. Sanders won't be in a generous mood—at least at the beginning. Last night from the stage, he said, "I look forward to your votes during the roll call tomorrow night." Indeed, in 2008, Clinton herself insisted on a roll call, before halting it "midway through, asking that Mr. Obama be approved by acclamation."

Source:
“CLINTON MUST BECOME THE NEXT PRESIDENT”
Bernie Sanders Seeks to Unite the Party
11 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Instead of his usual stump speech, Bernie Sanders tonight threw his support behind Hillary Clinton, providing a clear contrast between Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump on the many issues he used to discuss in his campaign stump speeches. Sanders spoke glowingly about the presumptive Democratic nominee, lauding her work as first lady and as a strong advocate for women and the poor. “We need leadership in this country which will improve the lives of working families, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor,” he said. “Hillary Clinton will make a great president, and I am proud to stand with her tonight."

“MUST NEVER BE PRESIDENT”
Elizabeth Warren Goes After Donald Trump
11 hours ago
THE DETAILS

In a stark contrast from Michelle Obama's uplifting speech, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke about the rigged system plaguing Americans before launching into a full-throated rebuke of GOP nominee Donald Trump. Trump is "a man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone," she claimed, before saying he "must never be president of the United States." She called him divisive and selfish, and said the American people won't accept his "hate-filled America." In addition to Trump, Warren went after the Republican Party as a whole. "To Republicans in Congress who said no, this November the American people are coming for you," she said.

×