Study: Dispersants did not help oil degrade in BP spill

November 9, 2015 bySeth Borenstein
Samantha Joye, a professor of marine sciences in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, studies the oil plumes generated by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout. Credit: Todd Dickey/University of Georgia

The chemical sprayed on the 2010 BP oil spill may not have helped crucial petroleum-munching microbes get rid of the slick, a new study suggests.

And that leads to more questions about where much of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill went. If the new results are true, up to half the oil can't be accounted for, said the author of a new study on the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

After the 172 million gallon (650 million liter) spill, the chemical dispersant Corexit 9500 was applied by airplane on the slick to help it go away and help natural microbes in the water eat the oil faster. The oil appeared to dissipate, but scientists and government officials didn't really monitor the microbes and chemicals, said University of Georgia marine scientist Samantha Joye.

So Joye and colleagues recreated the application in a lab, with the dispersant, BP oil and water from the gulf, and found that it didn't help the microbes at all and even hurt one key oil-munching bug, according to a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The dispersants did a great job in that they got the oil off the surface," Joye said. "What you see is the dispersants didn't ramp up biodegradation."

In fact, she found the oil with no dispersant "degraded a heckuva lot faster than the oil with dispersants," Joye said.

A microbially derived oil-containing aggregate (lower image), stained with bacterial and group-specific DNA probes (upper image) showing the abundance of oil-degrading microorganisms on the aggregate. Credit: Sara Kleindienst.

Joye's team chronicled nearly 50,000 species of bacteria in the Gulf and what they did to the water with oil, and water with oil and dispersant.

One of the main groups of oil munchers are fat little sausage-shaped bacteria called marinobacters, Joye said. They eat oil all the time and comprise about 3 percent of the bacteria in normal . But when there's oil, they eat and multiply like crazy until they are as much as 42 percent of the bacteria, Joye said.

But when the dispersant was applied, they didn't grow. They stayed around 3 percent, Joye said.

Instead, a different family of bugs called colwellia multiplied more, and they don't do nearly as good a job at munching the oil, Joye said. She theorized that for some reason the and marinobacters just don't work together.

So if the wasn't degraded by the , the question remains: Where did it go? Joye guesses it might still be on the floor of the gulf.

Outside scientists Jeff Chanton and Ian MacDonald of Florida State University said the study seemed to make sense. Chanton called the results important and surprising.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration welcomed the study and will evaluate to determine how well dispersants work in the future, said agency spokeswoman Keeley Belva.

Explore further: Further assessment needed of dispersants used in response to oil spills

More information: Chemical dispersants can suppress the activity of natural oil-degrading microorganisms, PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1507380112

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Shootist
2.3 / 5 (15) Nov 10, 2015
Raw petroleum flows from naturally occurring vents and fissures in amounts far greater than any oil well or super tanker. Politicians, social activists and useful idiots yell, scream and stomp their feet to make the commonplace look like a disaster. Thus is the way to power in the era of Hope 'n Change.
Mordechai Mineakoitzen
4.1 / 5 (15) Nov 10, 2015
Raw petroleum flows from naturally occurring vents and fissures in amounts far greater than any oil well or super tanker. Politicians, social activists and useful idiots yell, scream and stomp their feet to make the commonplace look like a disaster. Thus is the way to power in the era of Hope 'n Change.


That's non-useful idiotic logic, even if nature vents a little at times. Kind of like saying people die all the time, so what's the problem with wars? That artificially created leak devastated the fishing industry there, damaged beaches, and harmed all kinds of wildlife, all in a completely optional, human created manner. For them, it was a disaster, too bad you can't ask any of the animals that led less than spectacular lives as a result.

The creator of the problem lied about the size of it to escape fines, then they (apparently) used chemicals which are now shown to have done not much to help the problem. It's not some political exercise to want to do better.
rfallin
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 10, 2015
No surprise here. Hay was effectively used during the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. All using Corexit did was make the area so uninhabitable, it can now be cheaply depopulated and used for other, more nefarious purposes.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (10) Nov 10, 2015
Dispersants are an "out of sight out of mind" tactic. Nothing more.
Eikka
3 / 5 (8) Nov 10, 2015
even if nature vents a little at times. Kind of like saying people die all the time, so what's the problem with wars?


Dispersants are an "out of sight out of mind" tactic. Nothing more.


I think you two are missing the point.

The question is about the actual magnitude of the problem; whether it's a temporary bump on the road, or a massive persistent catastrophe. What we have here is people making completely polarized claims about the situation, simply assuming that it's one or the other.

The oil spill wasn't a war. It was an oil spill, and the dispersants got the oil off the surface and down to the bottom more quickly. Problem solved - no more oil slicks washing ashore. Now the question is, where is the oil at the bottom, and how big a problem is it?

And there the comparison to natural petroleum vents becomes valid. In an area with oil deposits, there's -already- oil venting at the bottom anyways.
bluehigh
1 / 5 (6) Nov 10, 2015
" .. even if nature vents a little at times. " - some non useful idiot.

More oil seeps into the Gulf of Mexico naturally, every year, than has spilled from Deepwater Horizon. As it turns out, this claim is actually true.

> It's not just venting 'a little at times', it's a huge outflow.

http://www.theoil...ode/6552

antialias_physorg
4.4 / 5 (7) Nov 10, 2015
Problem solved

Not really. The problem wasn't just "Oh, beaches will look nasty". The problem is also: how will it affect fisheries in the area. And if the oil/dispersant is killing off the wildlife (or even showing up in the food chain - i.e. in any fish products we consume), then we're pretty effing far away from 'problem solved'.

As for the natural vents: There's always the issue of concentration. A certain amount can be handled naturally (by the concentration of naturally occuring microorganisms). Above a certain concentration it cannot. That is why the 'natural oil vent' argument is really a non-argument as Mordechai Mineakoitzen correctly points out. It's idiot logic (read: logic for and/or by idiots).
gkam
2.8 / 5 (11) Nov 10, 2015
No, Eikka, it was NOT a "spill", it was a huge Blowout.

Big Oil wants us to call it a "spill".
Solon
1.8 / 5 (5) Nov 10, 2015
Corexit is produced from the most toxic end products of the refining industry, a substance that has no use for anything. They had millions of gallons of it in storage and no market. Solution? Create a 'blow-out' and get rid of it in the Gulf as a dispersant. The whole event was manufactured.
Eikka
1.8 / 5 (5) Nov 10, 2015
That is why the 'natural oil vent' argument is really a non-argument as Mordechai Mineakoitzen correctly points out. It's idiot logic (read: logic for and/or by idiots).


That's begging the question that there are no big leaks occurring naturally due to earthquakes or other spontaneous blowouts.

Trouble is, we aren't looking for them and we don't see them, because they don't reach the surface. They don't shoot up like a geysir from a wellhead. We only see the aftermath when we discover that some patch of seafloor has been completely covered in bitumen at some unkown point in the past.

No, Eikka, it was NOT a "spill", it was a huge Blowout.


It don't matter what you call it, because playing with names is just propaganda that we should ignore, one way and the other.
Eikka
1.7 / 5 (6) Nov 10, 2015
The problem is also: how will it affect fisheries in the area. And if the oil/dispersant is killing off the wildlife (or even showing up in the food chain - i.e. in any fish products we consume), then we're pretty effing far away from 'problem solved'.


-That- is the question that hasn't been answered. It is simply assumed that the oil and the dispersant are causing much more trouble than we are even aware of, without anybody really looking into the matter.

The question in the article "Where did it go?" basically points this out. Nobody knows, so it's basically just the same old hysteria - or assuming that the worst has happened because it suits your agenda.

ab3a
5 / 5 (3) Nov 10, 2015
I seem to recall that the EPA demanded that BP continue using Corexit despite doubts expressed by BP about the environmental efficacy. At the time the choices were to use it for dispersal or to just let the oil continue to bubble to the surface. There were no other options.

Nobody had ever dealt with a blowout like this before. Nobody knew what worked. So I think we're being a bit harsh on those who had to make judgments in the midst of all that confusion in a situation that nobody had ever planned for. Hopefully the lessons learned here will be applied to future efforts.

There was plenty of blame to go around, but even all the foolish corner cutting hadn't happened, the BOP design itself may not have been suitable for this depth. The drill pipe had bent, making the BOP shears ineffective. See the CSB video on the subject.
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 11, 2015
Nobody had ever dealt with a blowout like this before. Nobody knew what worked.

Which in itself speaks volumes about the processes involved. It's not like the break of the pipe at any part below the surface is a completely unforeseeable scenario.

Failing to plan for something like this (failing to train, failing to simulate, failing to be _prepared_ in any way whatsoever) is grossest negligence. Shutting one's eyes to the most basic of fault scenarios should not be an excuse. It certainly doesn't excuse them from harsh criticism of botching the job with untried/ad hoc/unverified measures.
barakn
4 / 5 (8) Nov 11, 2015
Raw petroleum flows from naturally occurring vents and fissures in amounts far greater than any oil well or super tanker. Politicians, social activists and useful idiots yell, scream and stomp their feet to make the commonplace look like a disaster. Thus is the way to power in the era of Hope 'n Change. -Shootist
Liar. Annual natural oil seepage distributed throughout the entire Gulf is estimated at 70,000 tonnes/year whereas the BP oil spill released 558,000 tonnes, most during a period of 87 days, i.e. 33x the annual rate. Each of these low-volume natural seeps has its own unique chemical signature and unique set of bacteria adapted to that seep, so the bacteria are already working on breaking it down at the point of release, vs. the BP disaster which released an immense amount of oil from a virgin location.
gventner
1 / 5 (6) Nov 12, 2015
you mean our top government scientists were wrong? Are they going to give money back to BP?
gkam
3.5 / 5 (8) Nov 12, 2015
No, BP was not only wrong, but criminal.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Nov 12, 2015
Each of these low-volume natural seeps has its own unique chemical signature and unique set of bacteria adapted to that seep, so the bacteria are already working on breaking it down at the point of release, vs. the BP disaster which released an immense amount of oil from a virgin location
You seem to be implying that the proper bacteria was not available to digest the spill.

So then how do you account for this?

"As Reddy suggests, the microbes got help from the nature of the oil spilled—so-called Louisiana light, sweet crude mixed with natural gas, as opposed to bitumen or other heavy, gunky oils. "It's a whole lot easier to degrade," says Christopher D'Elia, a biologist at Louisiana State University and dean of the School of the Coast and Environment. "The bacteria had something that was more tractable.
http://www.scient...l-spill/
barakn
3 / 5 (4) Nov 12, 2015
No, we got really lucky with the type of petroleum that was released but that there was a delay while populations of bacteria built up to effective levels.
antigoresockpuppet
2 / 5 (4) Nov 13, 2015
Pure Americana. Slap a "No Fracking" bumper sticker on your big SUV. Just like the drug war. "It's all the fault of those evil Mexicans". Never address US demand for drugs or Wall Street money laundering. It's all big oil's fault. The BP boycotts were classic. "Take a stand against BP and deep water drilling. Support Exxon Mobil and their Nigerian genocide!" Just don't ask any to get off their fat ass and ride a bike. Hell, you can't even get them off the phone for long enough to not hit you if you're on one. Shout how "THEY have to change". Change begins in the mirror? Get real. No more "I'm OK, you're OK". With gen X, it's "I'm awesome and you're a POS causing all my troubles".

For most people these issues are not about facts. It's about ego identity and group affiliation. If 1/10 of the "environmentalists" cared as much for the environment as their identity as environmentalists. Ditto the opposition. Masses: 1, Integrity: 0.
antigoresockpuppet
2.6 / 5 (5) Nov 13, 2015
No, BP was not only wrong, but criminal.


What about the whole culture? Halliburton was basically founded as an org that you can subcontract out the nasty jobs, the illegal jobs, jobs with a huge liability. They're the Bechtel of shady ops. They're really good at shifting the blame, though, and fingered BP for all the consequences. See my other posts. BP is better than most. You just won't address that YOU are the consumer of those products and keep the whole industry in business. You're also giving more power to people like Halliburton as the risk becomes greater.

We want cheap gas- no reliance on foreign sources- and a pristine environment whilst corps work on a constantly changing meagre profit margin- but don't cut any corners! Let's make it really difficult and then wonder why bottom feeders like Halliburton become major players.
antigoresockpuppet
1.8 / 5 (5) Nov 13, 2015
I seem to recall that the EPA demanded that BP continue using Corexit despite doubts expressed by BP about the environmental efficacy. At the time the choices were to use it for dispersal or to just let the oil continue to bubble to the surface. There were no other options.


How many that voted for Obummer held his feet to the fire? He was still writing deep water, gulf leases, to BP, while the oil was flowing into the Gulf. When it was pointed out, he signed an EO making in process oil leases classified. You know, if that's your idea of a progressive, defending the environment, you can just expect a lot more like this. Hey, but he satisfies 100% on being "not Romney". If that's the level his base is at, what do you expect? The US voter doesn't vote for anything any more. They vote against other stuff. And then you sit there and wonder why all the negative advertising. Duh.
antigoresockpuppet
1 / 5 (3) Nov 13, 2015
antialias_physorg

4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 10, 2015

Problem solved

Not really. The problem wasn't just "Oh, beaches will look nasty". The problem is also: how will it affect fisheries in the area.


Don't address the elephant in the room that there is no baseline to work from. Die-off in the fisheries is considered "normal" every year, due to nitrate run-off from the cane fields into the Gulf. lol White powder addiction. Don't mention its effects on the environment to a sugar addicted vegan that insists they live "cruelty free". Sugar production is arguably much worse for the ecosystem in the delta than oilfield accidents. But then they still probably drive, too, so one shouldn't be surprised.
ab3a
5 / 5 (1) Nov 13, 2015
Which in itself speaks volumes about the processes involved. It's not like the break of the pipe at any part below the surface is a completely unforeseeable scenario.


Before I say anything more, I still believe BP was and is being held liable. They screwed up big time.

HOWEVER, the scale and the failure modes of this accident were unprecedented. Nobody had ever seen anything like this before. It was a learning experience for everyone. Planning for something nobody has ever experienced before is extremely difficult to do well. There were resources. There were tools. There were dispersants that were in use, but never before at this scale.

Yes, people made mistakes. That's why we have studies like this to identify what worked and what didn't.

This whole episode was unique. It taught everyone a lot of hard lessons. In that light, your criticism seems quite hollow. Why don't you try to plan for something that has never happened before? I'll get the popcorn and watch.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2015
HOWEVER, the scale and the failure modes of this accident were unprecedented. Nobody had ever seen anything like this before.

I'm not disagreeing. Once it happened and after it had got out of hand it was unprecedented. I found the clumsy attempts at adhoc solutions for damming the flow of oil somewhat scary (not to mention the inept photoshops ofthe 'control center').

It taught everyone a lot of hard lessons.

I'm not sure. I'm not seeing any lessons learned. Are you aware of any new developments on how to plug a hole like the one that happened there? Or any new approaches to containing a spill instead of just duping dispersants on it again?

The only lesson I can see is (given the mild punishment of BP): "The risk is worth the cost - so let's keep on doing what we have been doing...oh, and hire better photoshop artists"

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Nov 13, 2015
Why don't you try to plan for something that has never happened before?

If you have a pipe you plan for the breaking of that pipe. The parameters are known (oil flow through the pipe, pressure in the pipe, position of the pipe).
It doesn't take a genius to look at the pipe and go "what shouled we do if it breaks here...or here...or here"...there's not that many different scenarios to consider (heck, when I see what kinds of things our testers come up with during free tests on how to break our systems...now some of THOSE are convoluted to the point where you go..."whut?").

Just going "we will not consider a possible break below the waterline - and therefore we will not plan/prepare for one" seems somewhat naive, don't you agree? The size of it was just a result of failing to plan/prepare for one of the most basic of failure scenarios.
ab3a
not rated yet Nov 13, 2015
antialias --you're not an engineer, are you? They DID plan on this. The BOP was rated for SIL3. Look it up. This accident was never supposed to happen this way. It's like designing an airliner for the possibility that it might lose all hydraulic fluid from three different systems. It was never supposed to happen, but it did to United Flight 232.

I am a registered professional engineer. I design safety systems. When you have a 30 year career and the experience of having to live with your creations perhaps you too will realize why things like this happen. At he end of the day you can only stack so many safety systems on top of each other and then there is nothing more you can do.

There are some weird conditions that nobody ever expects to see because there are triple diverse, safety systems. You oversimplified this problem and then posture as if it should be common sense. The only way not to have these problem is not to do these things.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Nov 13, 2015
antialias --you're not an engineer, are you?

As a matter of fact, I am (and I do look out for safety in medical x-ray systems).
Do you remember how they had to first design and construct that hood thing (that then didn't work...after the first try with pumping stuff down there didn't work either). That doesn't speak of planning to me.

This accident was never supposed to happen this way.

Well, yeah. It's like that thing at Fukushima. Where they had made all the surveys that said that 10 meter Tsunamis and magnitude 8 earthquakes were to be expected - and then went on to design for 5.7 meter tsunamis and magnitude 7.5 earthquakes.
Look, I know how these things happen. It's not that the engineers couldn't design/prepare for stuff like this. It's that someone higher up says: too expensive. Cost of preparation is higher than damages times likelyhood of accident - therefore we won't prepare.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Nov 13, 2015
And this wasn't some crazy fluke accident where 5 unlikely situations had to conspire to cause one complicated to foresee situation. The situation is a single point of failure: pipe breaks. If something like that is unforeseeable then we might as well do away with all safety assessments.

I know that occasionally something happens in the field, and that then shit hits the fan. In our case worst-case-scenarios would be that radiation is applied without an image being generated (read: not that you get harmed/killed by radiation, but simply that the radiation of ONE single x-ray shot is applied needlessly). Thank god that hasn't happened, yet. But you would not believe what lengths we go to to avoid this and what crazy scenarios our software/hardware must cover to prevent this in any/all cases (and how tough those FDA audits are which we have about every 6 months at one group or another!)
ab3a
not rated yet Nov 15, 2015
Antialias you really should read the CSB reports or watch the video on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. They cite a series of unlikely events, missteps, and incorrect operations --exactly the situation that you claim it is not.

Furthermore, doing audits every six months doesn't keep an accident of this sort from happening. People get in to habits and then they get sloppy.

When you've done this long enough, you realize that there are assumptions inherent in every design. Not all of these assumptions are obvious. There are times when I lay in bed at night wondering what I may have overlooked. I engineer processes that may be in explosive, corrosive, high energy environments. Arrogance has no place when engineering safety systems. I hope you never have to face yours after an accident.

SURFIN85
5 / 5 (1) Nov 20, 2015
When they said Brownie did a "Heck of a job", they underestimated it by at least 35%!!

Stephen King wrote "the Dead Zone". BP and Deepwater Horizon made one!

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