Revisiting the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Claudia Dreifus recently published a great interview with oceanographer Dr Samantha Joye in the Science section of the New York Times (here).

Until a year ago, the marine scientist Samantha Joye studied a fairly obscure natural phenomenon: the seepage of oil from undersea deposits into deepwater environments. Then, in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon accident, she felt compelled to turn her attention to an unnatural phenomenon: oil spills.

It was her research group that went into the Gulf of Mexico immediately after the spill, in April 2010, and found those famous plumes of oil andnatural gas. Now Dr. Joye, 45, of theUniversity of Georgia, directs a team seeking to understand the long-term effects on the chemistry and creatures of the gulf.

Q. How did you first learn of the Deepwater Horizon spill?

A. I was at home in Georgia, nursing a back injury. Several of my colleagues, however, were actually near to the explosion. I’m a member of the Gulf of Mexico Hydrates Research Consortium, which studies deepwater environments. As it happened, our group — which includes oceanographers from several regional universities — has a study site only 10 miles north of BP’s Macondo rig.

On the evening of the explosion, April 20, we had people there. When the sun came up the next morning, they saw this huge plume of smoke 10 miles away and also many boats screaming toward the BP rig. Soon, the Coast Guard instructed them to leave the area because it had set up an “off-limits” zone. My colleagues sent out e-mails describing everything they’d witnessed.

Q. How did you feel as you read these messages?

A. Sick to my stomach. From what they reported, and after seeing photographs of the fire in newspapers, I got worried about a blowout. This rig was tapping into a gassy undersea reservoir — it was, in fact, 40 percent gas, which made a blowout a real possibility.

But the Coast Guard was saying everything was fine. At first they claimed there was no leak at all. Then it was a mere 1,000 barrels a day, which was soon revised to 5,000. Scientists I knew who do remote satellite sensing were telling me the spill was at least five to 10 times higher than the reported rates.

As it happened, our group had a long-planned mapping cruise in the gulf scheduled for May 5. I called our project manager and suggested we use the opportunity to retask and gather baseline data on the spill — a time zero.

BP had a lot of ships out there taking measurements. But as far as I could tell, there were no independent academic scientists doing it. Our group would end up going to the gulf five times between May and December, collecting data. The National Science Foundationcame through with emergency funding.  Read the rest here at the NYT

I also have to reshare this hilarious video mocking BPs initially inept response to the spill:


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