2012 Peterson et al. DWH oil spill

2012 Peterson et al. DWH oil spill - Articles A Tale of Two...

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Articles May 2012 / Vol. 62 No. 5 • BioScience 461 A Tale of Two Spills: Novel Science and Policy Implications of an Emerging New Oil Spill Model CHARLES H. PETERSON, SEAN S. ANDERSON, GARY N. CHERR, RICHARD F. AMBROSE, SHELLY ANGHERA, STEVEN BAY, MICHAEL BLUM, ROBERT CONDON, THOMAS A. DEAN, MONTY GRAHAM, MICHAEL GUZY, STEPHANIE HAMPTON, SAMANTHA JOYE, JOHN LAMBRINOS, BRUCE MATE, DOUGLAS MEFFERT, SEAN P. POWERS, PONISSERIL SOMASUNDARAN, ROBERT B. SPIES, CAZ M. TAYLOR, RONALD TJEERDEMA, AND E. ERIC ADAMS The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil release posed the challenges of two types of spill: a familiar spill characterized by buoyant oil, fouling and killing organisms at the sea surface and eventually grounding on and damaging sensitive shoreline habitats, and a novel deepwater spill involving many unknowns. The subsurface retention of oil as finely dispersed droplets and emulsions, wellhead injection of dispersants, and deepwater retention of plumes of natural gas undergoing rapid microbial degradation were unprecedented and demanded the development of a new model for deep- water well blowouts that includes subsurface consequences. Existing governmental programs and policies had not anticipated this new theater of impacts, which thereby challenged decisionmaking on the spill response, on the assessment of natural resource damages, on the preparation for litigation to achieve compensation for public trust losses, and on restoration. Modification of laws and policies designed to protect and restore ocean resources is needed in order to accommodate oil drilling in the deep sea and other frontiers. Keywords: deepwater oil well blowout, natural resource damage assessment, ocean oil drilling policy change, sustaining public trust resources hydrocarbons escape into the atmosphere with minimal residence time in the water column. Organisms that occupy or frequently encounter the sea surface, such as floating seabirds, can suffer high mortality rates (Piatt 1991). On landfall, this generally cohesive surface oil fouls intertidal and shallow subtidal habitats, which degrades ecosystem services by killing sensitive organisms, including key provid- ers of structural habitat, such as salt-marsh macrophytes and mangroves (e.g., Jackson et al. 1989). Oil can persist when it is buried in anoxic, nutrient-limited sediments, where weathering is inhibited (Boufadel et al. 2010), leading to chronic biological exposures that can reduce production (Culbertson et al. 2008, Michel et al. 2009) or reproductive output and indirectly suppress the population recovery of exposed animals for decades (Teal and Howarth 1984, Bodkin et al. 2002, Culbertson et al. 2007, Esler and Iverson 2010) by depressing their fitness (Peterson 2001, Rice et al. 2001). In stark contrast, the DWH blowout occurred in deep (1500 m) offshore waters, where a highly turbulent discharge of hot, pressurized oil and gas entrained cold seawater under T he Deepwater Horizon (DWH) well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico represents a tale of two spills: the traditional shore-bound surface spill and the novel deep-ocean persis-
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