RPT-ANALYSIS-Doing nothing might have been best for oil spill

Tue Jun 29, 2010 6:55am GMT

There have been around 20 major spills of more than 20 million gallons since the 1960s. The largest recent spill was in 1991 in the Gulf as a result of the Gulf War when between 240 and 460 million gallons were spilled.

The largest previous spill resulting from a rig blowout like that of the Deepwater Horizon was the Ixtoc 1 off Mexico's Gulf coast in June 1979, which continued for 9 months during which more than 140 million gallons of oil was spilled.

The Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska in 1989 spilled around 10 million gallons.

Simon Boxall, an expert at Britain's National Oceanography Centre who has helped analyse various major oil spill cleanups, said several detailed experiments had been conducted since the Exxon Valdez spill, looking at areas that were left alone, as well as at areas cleaned up chemically or mechanically.

"The chemically cleaned up areas have taken the longest to recover and they are still damaged," Boxall said. "The areas that were left alone actually recovered much quicker."

Some 10,000 people were flown in to deal with the Exxon Valdez spill, and Boxall said scientists now wondered whether the "cleanup town" that grew up around it caused more environmental damage than the oil itself.

Christoph Gertler of Bangor University, who has been studying various potential bacterial remedies for oil spills, said reports by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggested that dispersants were "changing the nature of the oil in a very unfavourable way", making it more difficult for naturally occurring marine bacteria to break it down.

Boxall said it was important to remember that oil coming from the BP well was a light crude that would break down and evaporate fairly quickly when it came to the surface.

He said there were three golden rules of oil spills:   Continued...

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