Friday, December 10, 2010

Texas Tech Researcher to Appear on Canadian Deepwater Horizon Documentary

A Texas Tech University researcher discussed the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster for “BLOWOUT: IS CANADA NEXT?”, a new documentary by Up Front Inc. that aired nationwide Dec. 9 on Canada’s CBC Television.

Ron Kendall, director of The Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH), was interviewed by the team this summer. Filming off the coast of Louisiana, he discussed the toxic effects of oil and dispersants on birds, reptiles, shrimp, fish and other wildlife.

“The unprecedented oil spill in U.S. waters from the Deepwater Horizon event, along with the heavy use of dispersants, has created short-term impacts to the environment and human health,” Kendall said. “Now we are investigating the long-term or more chronic effects this oil will have on the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem. It is still an unfolding ecotoxicological event, and many species of fish and wildlife could still be at risk.”

During his career, Kendall was a part of the assessment for the Exxon Valdez as well as other oil spills and contamination events. He also served as chief editor of “Wildlife Toxicology: Emerging Containment and Biodiversity Issues,” published by CRC Press.

The book is the first reference to address environmental threats to wildlife in a single volume and recommend proven mitigation techniques to protect and sustain Earth’s wildlife populations. Within a month of its release May 10, the book was labeled an international bestseller by the book’s publishers.

On April 20, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, ultimately unleashing 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The event caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitat, as well as to the Gulf's fishing and tourism industries.

In May 2010, Chevron began drilling Canada’s deepest well off the coast of Newfoundland. This begs the question: Could an oil spill of the same magnitude happen in Canada?

The documentary tracked the aftermath of the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and transposed the oil spill to Canada’s Grand Banks. By documenting the latest scientific findings in the Gulf, the piece built a picture of what an offshore drilling disaster would look like on Canada’s East Coast.

More video clips from the documentary will follow.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Texas Tech Researcher: Lessons Learned with Deepwater Horizon, More Research Needed for Gulf Oil Impacts

Though six months have passed since news first broke that oil was pouring into the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon explosion, a Texas Tech University environmental toxicologist said many lessons have been learned and more research still is needed.

Ron Kendall, director of The Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH) at Texas Tech, said that though the media has ceased coverage of the oil spill since the federal government named the well “effectively dead” on Sept. 19, the story of the larger impacts is far from over.

“We’ve learned that we were not prepared for a deep-water release of oil of this magnitude,” he said. “We also learned we weren’t prepared for an oil spill in terms of the technology required to engage it. We know now that we need better booms and more information on the dispersants, as well as development of more ‘green’ dispersants than the ones available.”

Following the April 20 explosion, approximately 200 million gallons of crude would pour into the gulf, creating the largest accidental release of crude in the history of the petroleum industry.

Ecologically, the short-term effects on wildlife seem better than originally projected, he said. Hundreds of miles of beaches were oiled. Thousands of birds and hundreds of endangered or threatened sea turtles have died as a result of the oiling, but the damage could have been worse.

However, the full picture as to the oil’s impact on organisms below the surface may never be counted. Rather, the underwater impacts may become more apparent if populations dwindle because larval young were killed and aren’t there to reproduce in years to come.

“We are yet to learn what the impact of using dispersants in deep water is, because much of the oil is in the sub-surface or on the bottom,” he said. “The long-term effects may take years if not a decade to reveal. For example, the impact of this year’s age-class of endangered sea turtles may only become evident a decade from now when mature female turtles will wind up on the Texas beaches to lay their eggs. Another example would be with sperm whales. Damage done from this year’s calf recruitment may not be evident for years to come because it’s very hard to monitor them in deep water.”

Though NOAA and Texas Tech studies have not found oil residues in seafood samples, the industry continues to suffer from bad perceptions, he said. Also, some seafood could have long-term effects where popular species have population declines.

“The Gulf of Mexico is one of major spawning grounds in the world for bluefin tuna. We also know that larvae from blue fin tuna eggs are much more sensitive to toxic components of oil. This species could move to threatened or endangered status if there’s a population drop in the near future. We will have to monitor this closely, but the long-term impacts on sentinel species are ominous.”

Kendall continued to call for more independent academic research into the environmental effects of the oil spill.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Texas Tech Researchers Find No Evidence of Petroleum Hydrocarbons in ‘Good Morning America’ Samples

After receiving a shipment of Louisiana seafood samples collected by a reporter with “Good Morning America,” researchers at Texas Tech University found no evidence of petroleum hydrocarbons.

Though these samples were clean, the sample size was small and more research is necessary before the full picture can be seen, said Ron Kendall, director of The Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH).

“Our detection limits would have detected selected polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) had they been there, even at very low levels,” Kendall said. “Everyone should realize the sample size was extremely small and that these data represent just a snapshot of time and space. We believe sampling and analyses should continue, and that independent science-based research needs to continue.”

Scientists are concerned about PAHs because some of them are known carcinogens.

Producers with the morning news program asked TIEHH researchers to test the seafood samples prior to the federal government’s opening of waters to fishing on Monday. Reporter Matt Gutman sent the samples from Bastian Bay, La, where he is reporting.

“We collected the samples Monday in Bastian Bay,” Gutman said. “It is an area where we've found oil on the sediment. We filmed it all, including the bagging. The fishermen used a net, but found no evidence of oil directly on any of the samples.”

Gutman’s samples included shrimp, of which nine were tested from three separate locations, four oysters, two bait fish, a flounder and a speckled trout. They were shipped on ice overnight to the institute on Tuesday and Wednesday, where they were received in excellent condition and smelled fresh before processing.

Once tissues were extracted, scientists analyzed them using gas chromatography with mass spectrometry, said Todd Anderson, an environmental chemist at the institute. The process is used to determine substances within a specific test sample, and is widely regarded as the gold standard for forensic substance identification.

“We were particularly interested in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, some of which can be carcinogenic,” Anderson said. “The analytical results revealed that the PAHs we analyzed for were below detection limits of our instrumentation, and far below any levels of concern as regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

Trace Analysis Inc. of Lubbock, Texas, a certified laboratory in Texas and Louisiana, assisted with the analysis.

This project took five days to complete and was done without support from BP or the United States Federal Government.