Team:UTDallas/Background DeepwaterHorizon


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Environmental Biosensors Oil Spills Deepwater Horizon Deepwater Horizon Updates References

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, referred to also as the BP Oil Spill and the Gulf Oil Spill, is a large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that is currently the largest oil spill in America’s history with hundreds of millions of gallons of oil spilled. Following a deep oil rig explosion occurring on April 20, 2010 killing 11 workers, the leak has been gushing oil.

Follow the link to watch a short and interesting video relating to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill mechanics.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill had caused serious backlash and worry over the environment surrounding the impacted oil rig, and the toxic compounds and environmental hazards of oil have been looked into again in order to create an efficient clean up of the oil spill.

The toxic compounds in oil vary, but some of the most worrisome of compounds are the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) including napthalenes, benzene, toluene, and xylenes not only to the environment but to humans as well. According to experts, the ecology nearest to the spill and in the upper water column will be greatly affected and “contamination could ultimately end up having cascading effects up the food chain.” According to the article, “when an oil spill occurs, there are no good outcomes.” [4]

The northern Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, an “underwater area with little or no oxygen known commonly as the ‘dead zone”’[5] , has been predicted to grow and be negatively affected by the growing crisis with the Gulf Oil spill. There is evidence of underwater oil plumes which could be attributed to BP’s injection of chemical dispersants at the source of the leak. “These reports found that the high pressure of oil released from a deepwater blowout causes droplets and bubbles to form. Natural gas also rushes into the ocean, joins the crude, and helps form a buoyant plume of oil and gas. As this plume rises, it pulls in dense water from the ocean’s depths. Eventually, the denser water in the mixture slows the plume’s ascent.” [6] The more time that oil spends in the water, the more time the components of oil – including the more toxic compounds such as the PAHs and aromatic compounds – have to dissolve into the water and affect the aquatic ecosystem. Also, there are reports over the actual values of biodegradation occurring in the ocean environments. Typically, biodegradation occurring in marine environments is measured through the depletion of oxygen; however, some critics of dispersant use claim that the decreased oxygen use could actually be caused by oil- eating microbes consuming particles of the dispersant rather than the intended petroleum.