More Questions Than Answers for Commission on Dispersants

The question of how the unprecedented amount of chemical dispersants being used to fight BP’s oil is affecting the Gulf of Mexico came up repeatedly during two days of government hearings in New Orleans.What President Obama’s commission on the drilling disaster didn’t hear, however, were any definite answers for how the dispersed, underwater oil could be impacting the ecology of the Gulf.”We have massive amounts of oil that’s being dispersed subsurface. What’s going to happen to that after the spill? We don’t know,” said Ed Overton of Louisiana State University. “We know it’s not good, but the question is, how horrible is it?” After pressure from the Gulf Restoration Network and other organizations, the EPA has begun testing the toxicity of dispersants like Corexit when mixed with crude oil. Earlier in the day, the commission pressed Environmental Protection Agency officials about why they have allowed the the use of dispersants in deep water.This afternoon, Professor Overton lamented that none of the billions of dollars of profits oil companies have made on federal oil leases in the Gulf have been diverted to fund the study of the impacts from that drilling in the Gulf’s deep water.William Reilly, a former EPA director and co-chair of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, asked another witness whether they were concerned about the amount of dispersant being used.Christopher Reddy, a marine chemist at the Woods Hold Oceanographic Institute, said he didn’t second guess the decision of spill responders, but he did want to know the science behind the decision to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of dispersants into the oil and gas gushing out of BP’s blownout well a mile below the ocean’s surface.”We’ve already added more than one million gallons of dispersants into the Gulf. The United States hasn’t even had an oil spill of one million gallons in 20 years,” Reddy said.”Weve never used [sub-sea dispersants] before,” Reddy continued. “It’s completely novel. I’ve yet to see any data that suggests it’s working or not working or that suggests were reducing the impacts.” Matthew Preusch is a volunteer with the Gulf Restoration Network.

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