As Hurricane Isaac continues to bludgeon the Gulf Coast, the media is all a tizzy reminiscing about hurricanes past, most notably, Hurricane Katrina. However, there has been relatively little discussion about what could be a much more damaging and long-term issue for the Gulf, the continued presence of oil and oil dispersants from the Deepwater Horizon spill–oil and dispersant that Isaac’s storm surge and hurricane force winds will continue to thrust onto the Gulf shoreline.
In the summer of 2010, the Deepwater Horizon disaster spilled an estimated 4.9 million barrels of light crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The clean-up of such spills is regulated under the Clean Water Act, which includes a complex and extensive procedure for having spill clean-up products approved and used. This process begins with the scientific testing of a product by its manufacturer and the submission of such test results to the EPA. If a product meets the EPA’s standards it will be placed on a list of approved products for Regional Response teams and state governments to consider. When a spill occurs it is assigned an on-scene coordinator who works with the Regional Response team, state and local officials, EPA officials, and the Coast Guard to develop a response plan. In developing this response plan the team must select products off of the EPA’s list. As you can imagine the bureaucracy is piled thick and high. At this stage in the game, the science is nearly irrelevant. There is an emergency. Let’s fix it.
At first glance this seems perfectly fine. Obviously a quick response time to an oil spill is critical. And the prevalence of multiple layers of government is just par for the course. The problem arises when you think about the science. The EPA regulations involve only minimum standards that must be met for acceptance onto the list. Because the system is governed by a government agency, there is little room for outside evaluation by the scientific community. Thus, it is difficult to decipher whether the products on the EPA list are truly “safe” or effective. Combine this with the quick turn around time that an oil spill response requires and the potential for disaster grows exponentially.
Continued studies by outside researchers have shown that Corexit is neither as safe nor as effective as initial reports claimed. In fact, many reports are suggesting that Corexit may have serious long term health effects on both the individuals who are exposed and the Gulf ecosystems. Only time and reliable scientific studies will reveal whether these claims deserve merit. However, these reports and initial studies reveal with certainty that the current system for approving oil spill clean-up products is fatally flawed. As a nation that is reliant on fossil fuels it is essential that we quickly re-evaluate the current system and develop new methodologies for approving oil-cleanup response products.