The on-going oil leak resulting from the explosion and fire aboard the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon continues to make news. Here are some of the latest developments.
Admiral Thad Allen has agreed to continue as the National Incident Commander for the Deepwater Horizon / Transocean incident after his term as Commandant of the Coast Guard expires in June. Allen has been involved with the incident from the beginning and was the IC in a national drill held in New Orleans in 2002 which simulated a similar leak.
Transocean, Ltd., which owned the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, received an insurance payment of $401 million dollars on May 5. The rig was valued at $560 million.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ORDER ON DISPERSANTS
The EPA, on May 20, ordered BP to identify a less toxic and more effective dispersal agent within 24 hours. It also ordered the oil firm to begin using that agent within 72 hours.
The EPA maintains a list of approved dispersants. When the leak began, the EPA authorized BP to use a dispersal agent from their pre-approved list. On May 15, the EPA and the Coast Guard authorized use at the wellhead, some 5,000 feet below the surface.
Environmental activists have questioned the use of these chemicals, especially in an under water role. Use of dispersal agents in these quantities and at this depth has never been done. BP is being required to perform constant scientific checks on the results from the use of these chemicals and to keep the EPA informed. Those results are available at the EPA website about this incident.
Coastal residents and people working offshore in the area of the leak have reported smells and respiratory irritation. The EPA began monitoring air quality on April 28. A near real-time report can be found at this Airnow website. The information displayed there covers only two items, particulates in the air and ozone. The levels of volitile organic compounds that create the odors are not being posted.
Tar balls found in the Florida Keys on May 18 were not a result of the Deepwater Horizon leak. Those found on Dauphin Island in Alabama on May 8 were from the leak, according to Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry.
GULF LOOP CURRENT
The Gulf Loop Current enters the Gulf from the Yucatan, proceeds about half the distance between Cuba and the Mississippi delta, and then makes a turn of about 180 degrees to then approach the Florida Keys. As described in: Joanna Gyory, Arthur J. Mariano, Edward H. Ryan. “The Loop Current.” Ocean Surface Currents. (). http://oceancurrents.rsmas.miami.edu/atlantic/loop-current.html. , the current can vary wildly in location.
NOAA has determined that a portion of the oil from this event has reached the Loop Current. The Agency describes it as: “light to very light sheens “. They also describe the conditions necessary for that oil to reach Florida as: “persistent onshore winds or an eddy on the edge of the Loop Current “.
The forecast produced May 20 for May 22 suggests that the oil in the Loop Current may move to the west and not towards Florida.
Oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico are not uncommon. There are thousands of natural oil seeps which deposit about 500,000 barrels of crude oil into the Gulf each year. The presence of an oil slick or tar balls washing ashore does not automatically mean a connection to the Deepwater Horizon leak. As part of tracking the results of the leak, samples are being tested every day. The tarballs found in the Florida Keys are a good example of oil from a source other than the leak.