Government and Lubchenco dispersing lies about Corexit to the Arctic now


There’s a couple of things we’ve learned about the U.S. government — and some of the people who’ve worked there — over the last three years. We saw in the Gulf of Mexico that when it comes to dispersing a major oil spill, the feds have no idea what they’re doing. But sadly, when it comes to dispersing bad info, the government is second to none.

Now the feds are spilling misinformation in the Arctic region — the area where Shell has launched a risky and ill-advised offshore drilling campaign. Recently, Alaska Public Radio publicized a report authored by Dr. Jane Lubchenco — the soon-to-be-departed head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA — that seeks to argue that dispersants like Corexit, the toxic that was massively deployed on BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, offered no ill effects.

Here’s a snippet:

“It was our judgment that use of dispersants would help the oil be naturally biodegraded more naturally, and that certainly seems to have been the case” Lubchenco said.

Nearly two million gallons of dispersants, mostly Corexit, were used on the spill, close to half of it underwater while the oil and gas was gushing out of the wellhead and the broken pipe a mile deep in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Apparently, folks up in Alaska aren’t nearly as acquainted with Ms. Luchenco’s tired act as we are down here in Louisiana. In fact, we’ve been calling for her ouster from NOAA for more than two years, owing to her many failings, including quashing vital information and kowtowing to BP at every twist and turn of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Here’s a sample of why we thought she needed to go ASAP:

Here on the Gulf Coast, NOAA and its director Jane Lubchenco have become a joke on par with post-Katrina FEMA and its hapless director Michael Brown. It has certainly taken some doing getting down to the level of incompetence of Mr. Brown, or “Brownie” as President Bush called him in the midst of the Katrina debacle. Ms. Lubchenco began her rapid descent when NOAA joined with BP in lowballing the initial oil-spill flow estimates. Remember, it was NOAA that did BP the “favor” of coming up with the BP-friendly estimates. And things just got worse from there.

When the EPA needed to justify using toxic dispersant, agency officials didn’t have to look far to find somebody (Ms. Lubchenco) willing to back that BP-friendly plan. The Pulitzer-winning non-profit ProPublica website reported in August that during the dispersant-use approval process “…representatives of the EPA and NOAA also spoke on bioaccumulation, downplaying fears that the chemicals in dispersants would accumulate in aquatic life and that toxicity would be magnified higher up in the Gulf food chain. They acknowledged, however, that this, too, should have been considered beforehand.”

There’s been a lot more high-level mismanagement at NOAA during the Lubchenco era, including a scandal when an official in New England was discovered shredding documents that could show bias against small fishermen, and for large commercial fleets. But her Lubchenco’s final actions at this critical federal agency have been some of the most unconscionable. In continuing to promote the use of toxic oil-spill dispersants such as Corexit, she is putting marine life as well as humans at risk.

You may recall that it was less than two months ago that here on the blog we were reporting on highly reputable scientific research that proved Corexit was indeed harmful. It is much, much more harmful than either Lubchenco’s NOAA or BP — which sprayed an appalling 2 million gallons of this toxin into the Gulf to make its spilled oil disappear from sight, even as pollution was spread along a much wider area — had let on.

Here’s a reminder of what scientists from Georgia Tech and Mexico found about the use of Corexit in the Gulf:

A new study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes in Mexico finds that mixing oil with dispersant made the BP oil spill worse. Georgia Tech reports that the two million gallons of dispersant used to clean up the 4.9 million barrels of oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deep Water Horizon spill made the oil 52 times more toxic.

The researchers discovered that mixing the dispersant with oil raised the toxicity of the mixture up to 52-fold over the oil alone. They found that the mixture’s impacts increased the death rate of rotifers, a microscopic grazing animal at the base of the Gulf’s food web.

But now we have Lubchenco pushing the use of these ill-advised chemicals in the event of an offshore oil spill in the Arctic, with no research what their impact might be in such frigid waters, in difficult conditions. Based on Shell’s initial efforts to havest oil off Alaska, we know that anything that can go wrong with Arctic drilling, does go wrong. If the feds, local authorities, or an oil company followed her ill-considered advice, it could lead to an ecological nightmare in the region.

The only good news here is that Lubchenco is on her way out the door. Indeed, as we’ve noted before, these first few months of President Obama’s second term are a rare shot at redemption. In replacing Lubchenco at NOAA and Lisa Jackson at the Environmental Protection Agency, Obama has a second chance to install leaders who will follow sound science, and not industry lobbyists. Because we can’t afford to repeat the mistake of the Gulf in a setting as beautiful as Alaska.

Check out Dr. Jane Lubchenco’s recent statements from Alaska Public Radio about using dispersants in an Arctic spill at:

To read my earlier reporting from 2011 about the mismanagement by Jane Lubchenco at NOAA, please read:

 Check out my post from Dec. 2 about the environmental hazards of Corexit at:

To read the May 11, 2010, warning about Corexit from me and from other scientists and environmental attorneys, please read:

To watch a video from civil engineer Marco Kaltofen showing the toxicity of Corexit, go to:

To read more about the recent research on Corexit toxicity from scientists in Georgia and Mexico, please read:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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