BP oil spill

Researching and Restoring the Gulf

By Marguerite Huber

Hypoxia sounds like some sort of deadly disease. While it is not a disease, it is in fact deadly. Also referred to as dead zones, hypoxic water kills bottom-dwelling marine life such as crabs and mussels. (To learn more, see the video at the end of this blog.)

Dead zones lack dissolved oxygen and are caused primarily by excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Too many nutrients cause algae and plankton to grow in large numbers, and as the algae die and decompose, oxygen is consumed.

Excess nutrients are especially a problem in the Gulf of Mexico. Every summer, nutrient-rich freshwater from the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf, resulting in a dead zone of about 7,772 sq. mi. that causes massive fish kills and chases other creatures further out to sea.

In an effort to understand this annual occurrence, EPA researchers have developed a modeling framework for predicting how nutrient management decisions and future climate change scenarios will impact the size, frequency, and duration of hypoxic conditions that form in the Gulf of Mexico every summer.

Providing 17% of the Nation’s gross domestic product, the natural resources of the Gulf’s coastal and marine habitats and their ecosystem services are critical to both the regional and national economy. That’s a major reason why EPA researchers are exploring ways to improve and restore Gulf water quality and aquatic habitats.

Since the 1990’s, the Agency and its partners from coastal states have been monitoring estuaries and most recently, wetlands. This baseline came in handy in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, and it will continue to help researchers track the degree of recovery resulting from ongoing and future restoration actions in the Gulf.

Monitoring in the future will also help inform environmental management decisions by addressing linkages between ecosystem condition and the goods and services provided. Agency researchers have several methodologies in development for examining these linkages, including spatial analysis tools, and human well-being indices.

About the AuthorMarguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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BP Alaska Settlement: Enforcing the Law to Protect a Fragile Ecosystem

By Cynthia Giles

Looking at the picture of the BP Exploration Alaska facility taken from the window of a small plane as EPA inspectors flew over; you can’t help but notice the vastness of the Arctic tundra and the great expanse of pipeline that covers it. Home to habitat for caribou and many migratory bird species, the area also contains an abundance of domestic oil.

Those oil reserves, tucked below the often snow-covered surface, will help fuel the nation as we work to expand domestic energy production, transition to cleaner sources of fuel, and innovate our way to a cleaner, greener economy. But, the extraction of that oil must be done in a way that follows the law to ensure the protection of the fragile Arctic environment and the health and safety of the people who live and work there.

In 2006, leaks caused by a corroded pipeline spilled more than 5,000 barrels of oil, covering the tundra and reaching a nearby lake. The spill was the largest ever on the North Slope of Alaska and was the result of the company failing to properly operate and maintain its 1,600 miles of pipeline. Because of that negligence, EPA, working with our partners at the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Transportation (who oversee pipeline safety) pushed for the toughest per barrel penalty ever for an oil spill.

This week, we settled with BP, imposing a $25 million dollar penalty and requiring the company to drastically reduce the types of conditions, like internal pipe corrosion, that lead to the spills. But, we can’t just take their word for it when a company has a history of failing to properly maintain and monitor their operations, so we have also called for BP to hire an independent monitor to confirm that they are meeting the requirements of the settlement.

EPA takes its responsibility to protect people’s health and the environment very seriously. We have an obligation to vigorously enforce our nation’s environmental laws and companies that cut corners and fail to follow those laws will be penalized. American’s expect companies to operate in a safe, responsible and legal way and EPA is hard at work to make sure that they do.

About the author: Cynthia Giles is assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: BP Oil Spill Data Tools – Part II

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

For the past eight weeks I’ve had the privilege of being involved in a small slice of EPA’s coordinated response to the tragedy of the BP oil spill. Spending time in the Public Information Officers (PIO) room of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) here in Washington DC, has only furthered my resolve that this is an Agency where people truly live the mission of protecting public health and the environment. Part of that dedication is a commitment to sharing the information and environmental data we have on the EPA’s BP spill website.

Since oil began pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, EPA has collected thousands of samples for chemicals related to oil and dispersants in the air, water and sediment. Jeffrey Levy’s blog post last week mentioned how the principles of open government and transparency govern our actions here as we post the EPA’s  air, water, and sediment sampling and air monitoring data as quickly as possible.

On the website, we’ve focused on providing data as well as presenting EPA’s interpretation of it. Up until now, one way we’ve been providing the data is in chunks in .CSV files (a generic file that any spreadsheet program can read) or in a PDF spreadsheet – that’s pretty good but we can do better. So we’re pretty excited to be offering a few new tools that offer increased flexibility and options for people to access the data. Last week, Jeffrey mentioned Socrata and Google Earth, and today we’re announcing a new tool that gives you the ability to download data based upon criteria you select. You can download data based upon the date range you wish, whether you want to see air monitoring data or data from sampling efforts (from which you can select: air, sediment, surface water, waste or oil sample results from mousse, oily debris, tar, and weathered oil) and for all the states in which we’re gathering data (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana or Mississippi) or just one of these states.

Download-tool

This is the first version and we’ll be adding features to the data download tool, such as searching by chemical, chemical category or searching by county in the coming weeks. We will be phasing out posting of the spreadsheets, but we believe that putting you in the driver’s seat for how to sort and organize the data is a better way to share this data. We welcome your ideas for future versions and encourage you to visit the sampling and monitoring data download tool, try it out and share your feedback on ways we can improve the sampling and monitoring data download tool. We’ll work to incorporate as many of the suggestions as we can – so we’re hoping to see an active and constructive discussion in the comment section below so we can improve this tool together.

About the author: When not serving in the Emergency Operations Center, Melissa Anley-Mills is the news director for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She joined the Agency in 1998 as a National Urban Fellow.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Administrator Jackson: Dispatches from the Gulf Coast

Blog from Administrator Lisa P. Jackson at 7:17 p.m. Saturday, May 1.

Administrator Jackson thanks volunteers

Administrator Jackson thanks volunteers

Steel toe boots.

Fishermen, shrimpers and other men and women of the Gulf community turned out in droves. I met them at community centers, churches and city hall. They all had one question: how can I help?

The fishermen at Shell Beach said they’d do anything to head out and lay boom. They wanted to help right now. Their way of life was on the line. But, some said they hit a peculiar roadblock: their shoes. Yes. You read correctly.

Fishermen were told they could not take part in efforts to lay boom unless they wore steel toe boots. That is absurd.

These men and women have spent their lives on these waters. They know them better than anyone and don’t need anybody’s steel toe boots to sail them now. Especially when so much is at stake.

A simple phone call to BP fixed this problem. Footwear should absolutely not impede the thousands of Gulf Coast residents who want to save their way of life.

Workplace safety is terribly important. But it’s unacceptable to tell men and women, who know these seas like the back of their hands, that they can’t help lay boom because of their footwear.

This seems to be an easy fix. Other problems in this complex situation won’t be so simple. But it shows that a desire to put problem solving above process is critical as we address this environmental challenge of the highest order.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Administrator Jackson: Dispatches from the Gulf Coast

Blog from Administrator Lisa P. Jackson at 10:25 a.m. Friday, April 30.

Administrator Jackson and Secretary Salazar

Administrator Jackson and Secretary Salazar

Just finished our overflight. The extent of the spill is dramatic.

I’ve already heard good ideas to deal with landfall. As I said, we are assuming the worst case scenario. In the real world, booms break. So we have to listen to locals, shrimpers, sheriffs, oystermen, emergency managers and others who may have low tech ideas to protect our precious marshes.

I will spend the next days meeting with folks to bring ideas back. How about using hay or other material to protect sensitive oyster beds or shrimp nurseries? Can we create some buffers around our marshes? Good ideas that we will discuss with the on-scene coordinators as soon as we land.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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