On April 20, a team of university researchers published a review of the consequences of the powerful explosion that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, killing 11 workers and injuring 17 others. Published 10 years after the event, the review describes what scientists have learned and explains the ways the scientific community can use the event to navigate future oil endeavors and environmental disasters.
UC Santa Barbara professor David Valentine is among the review authors. In a conversation with the school’s publication The Current, Valentine described the work: “While it is the nature of science that we’ve introduced as many questions as we’ve resolved, I do think we are in a better place to understand, predict, and respond to major spills.”
The Deepwater oil platform was located in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Over 87 days, the platform released an estimated 168 million gallons of oil and 170,000 tons of natural gas into the gulf, making it the largest accidental marine oil spill to date.
The review, published in the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, included the groundbreaking ways in which dispersants were used to break down oil particles and spread them throughout the oceans and atmosphere. The analysis also highlights how emerging technologies resulted in advances in oil chemistry and microbiology. These new forms of technology have “provided unprecedented insights into the identity, structure, growth dynamics, succession and overall response of microbial communities to oil, gas and dispersant release to marine ecosystems.”
“The spill science community must be ready to work collaboratively across academia, industry and government during possible future oil releases in the deep sea and high latitudes,” the paper concluded.
The review comes as engineers and policymakers examine the problems of dismantling six oil rigs off the California coast, including four off Santa Barbara County. While there is no set date for full dismantling, the process reflects the increasing societal and scientific resistance to offshore oil drilling.
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