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Concept: Exxon Valdez oil spill


Acute catastrophic events can cause significant damage to marine environments in a short time period and may have devastating long-term impacts. In April 2010 the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon (DWH) offshore oil rig exploded, releasing an estimated 760 million liters of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This study examines the potential effects of oil spill exposure on coral larvae of the Florida Keys. Larvae of the brooding coral, Porites astreoides, and the broadcast spawning coral, Montastraea faveolata, were exposed to multiple concentrations of BP Horizon source oil (crude, weathered and WAF), oil in combination with the dispersant Corexit® 9500 (CEWAF), and dispersant alone, and analyzed for behavior, settlement, and survival. Settlement and survival of P. astreoides and M. faveolata larvae decreased with increasing concentrations of WAF, CEWAF and Corexit® 9500, however the degree of the response varied by species and solution. P. astreoides larvae experienced decreased settlement and survival following exposure to 0.62 ppm source oil, while M. faveolata larvae were negatively impacted by 0.65, 1.34 and 1.5 ppm, suggesting that P. astreoides larvae may be more tolerant to WAF exposure than M. faveolata larvae. Exposure to medium and high concentrations of CEWAF (4.28/18.56 and 30.99/35.76 ppm) and dispersant Corexit® 9500 (50 and 100 ppm), significantly decreased larval settlement and survival for both species. Furthermore, exposure to Corexit® 9500 resulted in settlement failure and complete larval mortality after exposure to 50 and 100 ppm for M. faveolata and 100 ppm for P. astreoides. These results indicate that exposure of coral larvae to oil spill related contaminants, particularly the dispersant Corexit® 9500, has the potential to negatively impact coral settlement and survival, thereby affecting the resilience and recovery of coral reefs following exposure to oil and dispersants.

Concepts: Petroleum, Coral, Coral reef, Gulf of Mexico, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Oil spill, Florida Keys, Oil platform


The 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster exposed embryos of pink salmon and Pacific herring to crude oil in shoreline spawning habitats throughout Prince William Sound, Alaska. The herring fishery collapsed four years later. The role of the spill, if any, in this decline remains one of the most controversial unanswered questions in modern natural resource injury assessment. Crude oil disrupts excitation-contraction coupling in fish heart muscle cells, and we show here that salmon and herring exposed as embryos to trace levels of crude oil grow into juveniles with abnormal hearts and reduced cardiorespiratory function, the latter a key determinant of individual survival and population recruitment. Oil exposure during cardiogenesis led to specific defects in the outflow tract and compact myocardium, and a hypertrophic response in spongy myocardium, evident in juveniles 7 to 9 months after exposure. The thresholds for developmental cardiotoxicity were remarkably low, suggesting the scale of the Exxon Valdez impact in shoreline spawning habitats was much greater than previously appreciated. Moreover, an irreversible loss of cardiac fitness and consequent increases in delayed mortality in oil-exposed cohorts may have been important contributors to the delayed decline of pink salmon and herring stocks in Prince William Sound.

Concepts: Heart, Fish, Muscle, Cardiac muscle, Skeletal muscle, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Exxon Valdez, Valdez, Alaska


To assess the potential impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on offshore ecosystems, 11 sites hosting deep-water coral communities were examined 3 to 4 mo after the well was capped. Healthy coral communities were observed at all sites >20 km from the Macondo well, including seven sites previously visited in September 2009, where the corals and communities appeared unchanged. However, at one site 11 km southwest of the Macondo well, coral colonies presented widespread signs of stress, including varying degrees of tissue loss, sclerite enlargement, excess mucous production, bleached commensal ophiuroids, and covering by brown flocculent material (floc). On the basis of these criteria the level of impact to individual colonies was ranked from 0 (least impact) to 4 (greatest impact). Of the 43 corals imaged at that site, 46% exhibited evidence of impact on more than half of the colony, whereas nearly a quarter of all of the corals showed impact to >90% of the colony. Additionally, 53% of these corals' ophiuroid associates displayed abnormal color and/or attachment posture. Analysis of hopanoid petroleum biomarkers isolated from the floc provides strong evidence that this material contained oil from the Macondo well. The presence of recently damaged and deceased corals beneath the path of a previously documented plume emanating from the Macondo well provides compelling evidence that the oil impacted deep-water ecosystems. Our findings underscore the unprecedented nature of the spill in terms of its magnitude, release at depth, and impact to deep-water ecosystems.

Concepts: Petroleum, Symbiosis, Coral, Coral reef, Gulf of Mexico, Polyp, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Oil spill


The large quantities of chemical oil dispersants used in the oil spill response and cleanup (OSRC) work following the Deepwater Horizon disaster provide an opportunity to study associations between dispersant exposure (Corexit™ EC9500A or EC9527A) and human health.

Concepts: Health, Human, Personal life, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Persian Gulf, Dispersant


Dispersants are important tools for stimulating the biodegradation of large oil spills. They are essentially a bioremediation tool - aiming to stimulate the natural process of aerobic oil biodegradation by dispersing oil into micron-sized droplets that become so dilute in the water column that the natural levels of biologically available nitrogen, phosphorus and oxygen are sufficient for microbial growth. Many studies demonstrate the efficacy of dispersants in getting oil off the water surface. Here we show that biodegradation of dispersed oil is prompt and extensive when oil is present at the ppm levels expected from a successful application of dispersants - more than 80% of the hydrocarbons of lightly weathered Alaska North Slope crude oil were degraded in 60d at 8°C in unamended New Jersey (USA) seawater when the oil was present at 2.5ppm by volume. The apparent halftime of the biodegradation of the hydrocarbons was 13.8d in the absence of dispersant, and 11d in the presence of Corexit 9500 - similar to rates extrapolated from the field in the Deepwater Horizon response.

Concepts: Water, Hydrogen, Petroleum, Alaska, Bioremediation, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Oil spill, Microbial biodegradation


As a result of the huge economic and environmental destruction from oil spills, studies have been directed at improving and deploying natural sorbents which are not only the least expensive but also the safest means of spill control. This research reviews the limitations and environmental impact of existing cleanup methods. It also justifies the need for concerted research effort on oil spill control using natural and sustainable technology concepts. The article proposes future guidelines for the development of a sustainable cleanup technology. Finally, guidelines for the development of a new technology for the Middle East are proposed, which is the use of an abundant resource-date palm fibers-for such techniques.

Concepts: Petroleum, Natural environment, Middle East, Asia, Environmental science, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Oil spill, Near East


We recently conducted a laboratory study to measure the dispersion effectiveness of eight dispersants currently listed on the National Contingency Plan Product Schedule. Results are useful in determining how many commercial dispersant products would have been effective for use on South Louisiana crude oil in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The test used was a modification of the Baffled Flask Test (BFT), which is being proposed to replace the current Swirling Flask Test (SFT). The modifications of the BFT in this study included use of one oil rather than two, increasing replication from 4 runs to 6, and testing at two temperatures, 5°C and 25°C. Results indicated that temperature was not as critical a variable as the literature suggested, likely because of the low viscosity and light weight of the SLC. Of the eight dispersants tested, only three gave satisfactory results in the laboratory flasks at both temperatures.

Concepts: Petroleum, Temperature, Liquid, Test method, Gas, Heat transfer, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Oil spill


The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform on April 20th, 2010 resulted in the second largest oil spill in history. The distribution and chemical composition of hydrocarbons within a 45 km radius of the blowout was investigated. All available certified hydrocarbon data were acquired from NOAA and BP. The distribution of hydrocarbons was found to be dispersed over a wider area in subsurface waters than previously predicted or reported. A deepwater hydrocarbon plume predicted by models was verified and additional plumes were identified. Because the samples were not collected systematically, there is still some question about the presence and persistence of an 865 m depth plume predicted by models. Water soluble compounds were extracted from the rising oil in deepwater, and were found at potentially toxic levels outside of areas previously reported to contain hydrocarbons. Application of subsurface dispersants was found to increase hydrocarbon concentration in subsurface waters.

Concepts: Water, Petroleum, Solubility, Hydrocarbon, Wax, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Oil spill, Oil


The present study investigated the utilization of an industrial by-product, lignite fly ash, in oil pollution treatment, with the further potential profit of energy production. The properties of lignite fly ash, such as fine particle size, porosity, hydrophobic character, combined with the properties, such as high porosity and low specific gravity, of an agricultural by-product, namely sawdust, resulted in an effective oil-sorbent material. The materials were mixed either in the dry state or in aqueous solution. The oil sorption behaviour of the fly ash-sawdust mixtures was investigated in both marine and dry environments. Mixtures containing fly ash and 15-25% w/w sawdust performed better than each material alone when added to oil spills in a marine environment, as they formed a cohesive semi-solid phase, adsorbing almost no water, floating on the water surface and allowing total oil removal. For the clean-up of an oil spill 0.5 mm thick with surface area 1000 m(2), 225-255 kg of lignite fly ash can be utilized with the addition of 15-25% w/w sawdust. Fly ash-sawdust mixtures have also proved efficient for oil spill clean-up on land, since their oil sorption capacity in dry conditions was at least 0.6-1.4 g oil g(-1) mixture. The higher calorific value of the resultant oil-fly ash-sawdust mixtures increased up to that of bituminous coal and oil and exceeded that of lignite, thereby encouraging their utilization as alternative fuels especially in the cement industry, suggesting that the remaining ash can contribute in clinker production.

Concepts: Energy, Water, Petroleum, Mediterranean Sea, Coal, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Oil spill, Bituminous coal


Dispersants are commonly used to mitigate the impact of oil spills, however, the ecological cost associated with their use is uncertain. The toxicity of weathered oil, dispersed weathered oil, and the hydrocarbon-based dispersant Slickgone NS(®), to the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum has been examined using standardized toxicity tests. The assumption that most toxicity occurs via narcosis was tested by measuring membrane damage in diatoms after exposure to one of the petroleum products. The mode of toxic action was determined using microarray-based gene expression profiling in diatoms after exposure to one of the petroleum products. The diatoms were found to be much more sensitive to dispersants than to the water accommodated fraction (WAF), and more sensitive to the chemically enhanced WAF (CEWAF) than to either the WAF itself or the dispersants. Exposure to dispersants and CEWAF caused membrane damage, while exposure to WAF did not. The gene expression profiles resulting from exposure to all three petroleum mixtures were highly similar, suggesting a similar mode of action for these compounds. The observed toxicity bore no relationship to PAH concentrations in the water column or to total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH), suggesting that an undescribed component of the oil was causing toxicity. Taken together, these results suggest that the use of dispersants to clean up oil spills will dramatically increase the oil toxicity to diatoms, and may have implications for ecological processes such as the timing of blooms necessary for recruitment.

Concepts: Gene expression, Petroleum, Toxicity, DNA microarray, Diatom, Phaeodactylum tricornutum, Diatoms, Exxon Valdez oil spill