Oil Spill Update: More Wildlife Harmed, EPA Issues Warning to BP about Dispersant, and More

Oil Spill Update: More Wildlife Harmed, EPA Issues Warning to BP about Dispersant, and More

Michele Berger
Published: 05/21/2010

Bottlenose dolphins could be at risk from the spill
(Photo: U.S. Fish and Wlidlife Service)
In the four weeks since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, much has changed and frustratingly much has stayed the same. BP’s riser insertion tube tool continues to siphon some 3,000 barrels of oil a day to a drillship above (BP launched a live webcam of the flow riser this morning), and the oil company it still working on fully plugging the leaks. As of now, the oil’s still flowing. Here’s a look at some of the latest news:
 
Wildlife update
Audubon photo editor Kim Hubbard just arrived in Louisiana and already she’s seeing the impact of this spill on animals. See her image of an oiled Kemp's Ridley sea turtle from her post this morning.
 
More oiled wildlife comes in every day. A conference call with several U.S. Fish and Wildlife and NOAA officials this morning revealed that eight turtles have been collected, two of which later died. Also, of 66 birds that have come in, 43 have died and 23 are alive and being rehabbed. The officials also expressed concern for marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and manatees.
 
Oil reaches loop current
A post last week discussed the impact on several of Florida’s crucial coastal ecosystems once oil struck. Then, it was a waiting game; nothing would happen until the slick connected with the loop current off Florida’s western coast, a current that feeds into the Gulf Stream. Reports from NOAA Wednesday indicate that very light sheens have actually reached it.
 
A NOAA official stated that by the time the oil moves through all of the Florida straits, “any oil would be highly weathered and both the natural process of evaporation and the application of chemical dispersants would reduce the oil volume significantly.” One can

A May 17 satellite image of the oil spill, heading toward the loop current (Photo: NOAA)
only hope, considering that Robert Weisberg, a physical oceanographer and modeler from the University of South Florida, estimated that once in the loop current, oil would reach the Florida straits within a week, then Miami in another week’s time.
 
Less toxic dispersant needed, EPA says
Yesterday the EPA gave BP a dispersant-related ultimatum: Pick a less toxic, more effective one from the approved list within 24 hours and start using it within three days, or we’ll take away the your privileges. Period. “We reserve the right to discontinue the use of this dispersant method if any negative impacts on the environment outweigh the benefits,” stated the Dispersant Monitoring and Assessment Directive for Subsurface Dispersant Application released Thursday.
 
As of yesterday, the cleanup effort has included use of more than 655,000 gallons of dispersant (with 340,000 gallons still available). According to the EPA, the effects of this volume and use of dispersant—last week, BP got approval to use it underwater to start attacking the source of the leak—are unchartered territory.
 
In another attempt to keep the public in the know about BP’s remedy efforts, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson yesterday sent BP’s CEO a letter stressing that the company must be as transparent as possible regarding its actions.
 
Government sets up a Flow Rate Technical Team
On the heels of the announcement that Admiral Thad Allen would continue heading the Obama Administration’s response to this disaster even after he’s relieved later this month of his post as Coast

Scientists collect sediment for analysis (Photo: NOAA)
Guard Commandant (a planned move), came news of the establishment of a Flow Rate Technical Team (FRTT)—what the AP calls “a task force of scientists”—to determine at what rate the oil is actually flowing.
 
BP admits that current numbers, which frequently cite a 210,000-gallons-per-day estimate, are incorrect for several reasons. First, they’re based on a riser 19.5 inches in diameter, its original size. But BP says that the accident “distorted” this by about 30 percent. Also, the riser contains natural gas, changing the proportion of gas in the plume.
 
The new rate-assessment team, which consists of U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA, the Minerals Management Service, the Department of Energy, and the US Geological Survey officials, must produce a report by day’s end tomorrow. Why’d it take so long to pull together this team? NOAA head Jane Lubchenco told the AP that the first priority was—and still is—plugging the leak.