By Amy Wold
Advocate staff writer
July 01, 2012
Although much is known about the use of dispersants on the surface of water during an oil spill, research still needs to be conducted on possible environmental problems that could result, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released Friday.
In the wake of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon/BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, the Government Accountability Office was asked to review several aspects of the use of dispersants.
Dispersants can include different chemical make-ups designed to break up oil into smaller droplets to help with its degradation. During the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil leak, 1.84 million gallons of dispersants were used, according to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling report released in 2011. Of that amount, 771,000 gallons were applied deep underwater at the wellhead.
“Little or no prior testing had been done on the effectiveness and potential adverse environmental consequences of a subsea dispersant use, let alone at those volumes,” the oil spill report said.
The GAO report said although federal agencies have spent more than $15.5 million on research involving dispersants since 2000, relatively few of these studies looked at the effects of using dispersants underwater or in the Artic.
Some of the problem is finding consistent funding that would allow for long-term research “needed to understand chronic toxicological effects of dispersants,” according to the GAO report.
In addition, there are difficulties with doing testing outside of a laboratory environment and communicating about and tracking research, the report stated.
“Although some organizations have attempted to compile lists of dispersant-related research, currently there is no mechanism that tracks dispersant research across all sources and highlights past and ongoing research projects,” the report states.
The report recommends that the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Oil Pollution Research provide updated information on key dispersant research and that subsurface and Arctic dispersant use be made priority research areas in the future.