They poisoned the Gulf with dispersant — and it didn’t even disperse


Now that we’re more than two years out from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, a good bit of scientific research is starting to come in. Most of the findings — unfortunately, but predictably — are not good news for the Gulf Coast. Many of these studies are showing that oil has been more damaging to fish or other marine creatures, or to the region’s fragile wetlands, than originally feared. It’s why I’m troubled that BP is racing to settle the various legal claims from the April 2010 spill before the whole extent — or the real cost — of the damage is known.

Then there’s the matter or Corexit, the chemical dispersant that was aggressively deployed by BP or its contractors while the oil flowed freely from the damaged rig in 2010. Much of the Corexit was deployed at the wellhead, in a misguided effort to disperse the oil before it reached the surface. In the end, nearly 2 million gallons of the dangerous dispersant was released into the Gulf. Earlier this week, I told you about alarming new research showing that Corexit mixed with the Gulf oil proved to be 52 times more toxic than first believed. This may have been news to the scientific community but frankly it was little surprise to the boat captains who got sick working on the cleanup efforts, or fisherman struggling with dead zones in the Gulf.

And now comes a second study published in Environmental Science and Technology,  led by researchers from the University of Miami and others, showing that not only did Corexit poison the Gulf, it didn’t even do what it was supposed to do, disperse the oil:

Together they developed and tested models to show that the application of oil-dispersing chemicals had little effect on the oil surfacing in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Deepwater drilling into large, high-pressure reservoirs of oil and gas located far offshore and hundreds of meters below the ocean’s surface involves risks for which we were not adequately prepared,” said Paris.

“As the oil gushed uncontrolled into the Gulf, injection of chemical dispersant into the deep ocean may have had little effect because the oil was coming out with such pressure that it was already dispersed in small droplets.

It is impossible to know whether the synthetic dispersant was well mixed with the oil as it was injected. Our models treat both scenarios, and regardless of whether you have the dispersant in the water mixture or not, the amount of oil reaching the sea surface remained relatively unchanged.”

I don’t understand why this issue doesn’t get more attention, and why it’s not provoking more outrage. The ill-conceived and indiscriminate use of this dispersant is what took the worst oil spill in the history of the United States, and managed to make it much, much worse. And it’s extremely disappointing, that a federal judge has recently dismissed claims from spill victims against Nalco, the company that manufactures the ultra hazardous Corexit. 

But the judge was correct in noting that it was BP — with what many of us believe was shoddy federal oversight — that made the ultimate decisions on how to deploy the Corexit, and how much to use. Those of us who live in the Gulf are still living with the consequences of that mistake. What makes it even more maddening is it was all done for nothing.

For my Dec. 2 blog post on the alarming toxicity levels of Corexit deployed in the Gulf. please read:

To read more about the study by a team led by University of Miami researchers, please go to:

To read about the dismissal of legal claims against Nalco in the BP spill, please read:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • According to the Material Safety Date Sheet for Corexit EC9527A, it contains 2-Butoxyethanol. ???? 2-Butoxy Ethanol should be handled as a CARCINOGEN — WITH EXTREME CAUTION.
    — Right to Know Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet

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