Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gulf of Mexico becomes science laboratory for dispersants

President Barack Obama requested $2 million in supplemental federal funds for dispersant research associated with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Record volumes of dispersants have been used on the gulf's surface and in the subsea at 5,000 ft of water. Most previous research on dispersants involved laboratory testing, but the spill resulted in scientists monitoring the effects of chemical dispersant on a much grander scale.

Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, testified on July 15 before a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations about the request for funding dispersant research.

Dispersants played a big role in the Macondo oil spill response efforts. Scientists and others are studying the effects that dispersants might have on marine life. Federal officials and Louisiana state officials granted BP authorization to use approved dispersants to break down the oil into smaller drops.

In May, EPA and the US Coast Guard issued a directive requiring BP to implement a monitoring and assessment plan for subsurface and surface applications of dispersants. Federal authorities on May 26 asked BP to significantly decrease the overall volume of dispersants being used.

“Since that directive, we have seen the total volume of dispersants used fall by almost 70% from their peak levels,” Jackson said. EPA set up an extensive network to monitor the air, water, and sediments for the presence of dispersants and crude oil components.

The next phase of EPA’s testing will assess the acute toxicity of multiple concentrations of Louisiana sweet crude oil alone and combinations of Louisiana sweet crude oil with dispersants.

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