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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

BOEM Report: 75% Chance of Spill in Arctic

Posted On December 2, 2014 by

Large ice flows in the Arctic Ocean

Copyright Corbis. All rights reserved.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) recently released a revised environmental analysis of oil and gas activity in the Arctic Ocean.

BOEM’s latest analysis leaves no doubt that development and production of the Chukchi Sea oil and gas leases could be devastating to the Arctic marine ecosystem. Perhaps most troubling, a statistical analysis used by BOEM indicates that there is a 75% chance of one or more large spills over the lifetime of Chukchi Sea development and production. BOEM admits that a very large oil spill could result in the death of large numbers of polar bears, bowhead whales, seals, and marine and coastal birds.

The agency is accepting comments until December 22. Join Ocean Conservancy in telling BOEM to say no to risky Arctic drilling.

This environmental analysis and opportunity to comment has been a long time in the making. Almost seven years ago, in February of 2008, the federal government auctioned oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska. The auction was known as Lease Sale 193, and it purported to give successful lessees—including Shell—the conditional right to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean.

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Where Did the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Go?

Posted On October 31, 2014 by

You may remember images like this one following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster—oil smeared across Gulf Coast beaches like a dirty bathtub ring. New research released this week suggests that a similar oily bathtub ring is lying on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists determined that an oily patch created by the BP oil disaster remains on the Gulf seafloor, stretching across roughly 1,250 square miles. They came to these conclusions using data collected as part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment at over 500 sampling locations in the Gulf. The source of the oil is most likely the subsea oil plumes that moved underwater—oil that spewed from the Macondo wellhead but never made it to the surface. As oiled particles fell out of the plume and settled on the Gulf seafloor, they created what the researchers are calling a “patchwork mosaic” of contaminated sites. The patches get more spread out the further they are from the wellhead, leading the scientists to conclude that there is still more oil lying beyond the edge of the bathtub ring, but it probably just hasn’t been detected yet.

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Yes, BP Did Damage the Gulf of Mexico

Posted On October 27, 2014 by

In an opinion piece published Tuesday, the oil giant BP would have us believe that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster wasn’t all that bad for the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, they admit the event was a tragedy, and, sadly, both people and wildlife perished. But, they quickly point out that the effects from the disaster were not as dire as predicted, and recovery is already happening or perhaps complete.

But those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. We know that marine ecosystems affected by oil spills much smaller than the BP oil disaster, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, take decades to recover. And with only four and half years behind us since the Deepwater Horizon exploded, we see a steady drumbeat of peer-reviewed articles documenting evidence of harm. The full effects of 210 million gallons of oil on the Gulf cannot be easily dismissed, especially when the injury studies BP conveniently cites are not yet available to the public. A deep dive into the real evidence of the BP oil disaster reveals several holes in BP’s story.

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BP Oil Marring Deep-Water Corals 13 Miles Out

Posted On July 31, 2014 by

Photo: Fisher lab, Penn State University

Deep-water corals keep good records, which come in handy in the case of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Researchers from Penn State University discovered this week that the impact of the BP oil disaster on corals living in the cold waters at the Gulf of Mexico seafloor is bigger than predicted.

This study joins dozens of others on fish, dolphins and birds as part of the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment, a legal process that’s critical for tracking the damage that started four years ago at the bottom of the Gulf. Scientists first discovered corals coated in a brown substance only 7 miles from the now-defunct BP well in late 2010. The oil left over from the disaster is more difficult to find in the deep sea (in contrast to the coastline, where the occasional 1,000-pound tar mat washes up on shore), so scientists must look to corals for clues on how the marine environment was impacted. “One of the keys to coral’s usefulness as an indicator species is that the coral skeleton retains evidence of the damage long after the oil that caused the damage is gone,” said lead researcher Charles Fisher.

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800,000 and Counting: The Soaring Deepwater Horizon Bird Death Count

Posted On May 22, 2014 by


According to a new study, scientists estimate that between 600,000 and 800,000 coastal seabirds died because of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, a number far greater than any previous estimate. Understanding the ripple effect of 800,000 coastal birds dying in the Gulf of Mexico is critical to the recovery of this special place. These findings come from a study to be released this summer in Marine Ecology Progress Series, which was recently reported in the New York Times.

This new estimate for bird deaths in the Gulf is unprecedented for an oil disaster. For context, the estimate of dead birds following the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill was around 300,000.

What are the ecosystem effects of 800,000 birds dying?

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Preserving Wildlife and Preventing Shipwrecks in the Aleutian Islands

Posted On May 6, 2014 by

Photo: Alaska Dept of Environmental Conservation Spill Prevention and Response

Forming the southern boundary of the Bering Sea, the Aleutian Islands archipelago stretches for more than 1,000 miles. This windswept and remote region is home to a rich diversity of fish species, birds that migrate from all seven continents, and marine mammals ranging from endangered Steller sea lions to humpback whales. Although this unique ecological area has been designated a National Maritime Wildlife Refuge and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, it continues to face the impacts of oil spills and other pollution from the global shipping industry. As shipping along the Aleutian Island segment of the ‘Great Circle Route’ connecting North America and Asian markets has increased, so too has the number of catastrophic accidents and near-misses involving some of the largest vessels in the world.

On December 6, 2004, the cargo vessel Selendang Ayu, which was carrying 66,000 tons of soybeans from Seattle, Washington to Xiamen, China, experienced engine problems. The 738 foot long ship was shut down and allowed to drift while repairs were made. The ship drifted along the Aleutian chain, but the captain did not call the U.S. Coast Guard immediately. When the crew was unable to start the engine the following morning, the weather had worsened and the Selendang Ayu was dead in the water—and taking the full force of 35 mph winds and 15 foot waves.  By the time the Coast Guard was alerted and rescue vessels arrived on the scene, winds were exceeding 60 mph, with waves reaching 25 feet.  Despite the efforts of rescue crews, the extreme weather conditions forced the grounding of the Selendang Ayu near Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Tragically, several of the ship’s crew members were killed when a helicopter crashed while attempting to rescue them. The ship eventually broke in half, spilling more than 300,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel, which is more toxic to the environment than crude oil.

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Oil and Ice Still Don’t Mix in the Arctic

Posted On April 30, 2014 by

On April 23, the National Research Council (NRC) released a new report that reviews state of science and technology with respect to spill response and environmental assessment in the U.S. Arctic Ocean. Ocean Conservancy provided recommendations and comments to the NRC as it conducted its research last year.

Now that the NRC has published its final report, we are pleased to see that it confirms what we’ve known all along: there are major barriers to effective oil spill response in Arctic waters. These include lack of information, lack of infrastructure, and lack of preparedness to deal with adverse environmental conditions.

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