Lecture: Gulf Oil Spill Update
“The Oil Spill, the Mississippi, and the Challenges of the Gulf”

Stony Brook, NY, January 31, 2011 – On Friday at Noon, New York Sea Grant Director Dr. James Ammerman will be the guest speaker at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (Endeavour Hall 120) for an update on the recovery efforts since last spring’s blowout of British Petroleum’s Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. Ammerman first discussed the now largest oil spill in history that followed the incident during a September 2010 talk at Stony Brook Southampton and as part of a panel discussion at Stony Brook University in October 2010.

“In the last few months we have learned a lot more about the oil spill and future plans for Gulf restoration,” says Ammerman. “The Oil Spill Commission report has been released and a new restoration task force created." Ammerman is a microbial ecologist interested in nutrient cycling and its contribution to the Gulf's "Dead Zone." From his prior faculty posts at Texas A&M and Rutgers, he led numerous cruises into the Northern Gulf from 2000 to 2004. At Rutgers, he also created and taught courses on the challenges of the Gulf post-Katrina.

Released in mid-January 2011, the Report to the U.S. President from National Commission on the BP Oil Spill calls for the federal government to require tougher regulation, stiffer fines and a new industry-run safety organization within the U.S. Interior Department that would be headed by an official with a fixed term of office in order to insulate the appointee from political interference. It also recommends funding the regulatory agency that oversees offshore drilling, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, with fees from the companies who are exploiting the nation's petroleum resource. The U.S. Interior Department was also advised in the report that it should include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the decision-making process about where and how to conduct future oil and gas leasing.

The commission also found the Deepwater Horizon disaster could have been much worse than it was: "At one point, industry experts feared that a significant portion of the 4.6 billion gallon oil and gas reservoir beneath the sea floor could be released into the gulf."

Says Ammerman, “The potential for environmental disaster in the Gulf was great.” He, like many scientists, is quick to remind us, however, that much is still unknown about the oil spill and its impacts and will remain so for some time. “Although shoreline impacts by the spill have been limited, partly due to dispersant use, the ultimate effects of deep water dispersant use are unclear,” says Ammerman. While damaged marshes already appear to be re-growing and bird mortality is less than prior spills, other uncertainties include the impacts on the region’s turtle and tuna populations. Also, seafood appears safe (from open fishing areas in the Gulf), but additional testing is needed.

“Oil is not an entirely foreign substance in Gulf waters,” Ammerman said, referring to the area’s natural underwater seeps, from which oil is largely metabolized naturally by bacteria. “The difference, here, though,” he cautioned, “is that the amount of oil from this incident [4.9 million barrels, or 205 million gallons] is far greater than anything seen naturally.” So, the long-term effects on fisheries, wetlands and other parts of the ecosystem have yet to be determined.

New York Sea Grant is part of a nationwide network of 32 university-based programs that work through NOAA with coastal communities. The National Sea Grant College Program engages this network of the nation’s top universities in conducting scientific research, education, training, and extension projects designed to foster science-based decisions about the use and conservation of our aquatic resources.

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