BRIGGS: We Got Clean Ersters Here, Y’all!

The oil and gas industry has been working through many different important issues over 2012 such as hydraulic fracturing regulations, new EPA rules and water concerns to name but a few. However, a recent study, brought to light by the Times Picayune, did catch my attention regarding oysters and how they were affected by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This study claims oysters were disturbed very little as a result of the spill.

The study released by a University of New Orleans oyster biologist, Thomas Soniat, discovered that the oysters at oil-exposed areas in Louisiana revealed no contamination or biological implications of exposure six months beyond the 2010 oil spill.

According to another paper published by Environmental Science and Technology, the research doesn’t imply that the oysters were not exposed to oil, but rather that the oysters simply consumed very little oil if any at all. The paper continues to say that while the spill was thought to have transformed the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem for the long term, it has been “difficult to quantify due to the physical setting, offshore application of dispersants, potentially rapid microbial degradation and low detection rates for affected organisms”. Restating this in clear English, the negative long-term outcome on the ecosystem and the Gulf as a result of the 2010 spill has been hard to identify and quantify.

Another group of researchers from Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab, marine scientist Ruth Carmichael and her colleagues, stated in in the Times Picayune article of how they are not positive as to “whether the local oysters simply avoided eating oiled material in their surrounding or whether there simply was not much oiled material around them”. The bottom line remains the same; the local oyster population within the spill zone, according to numerous researchers, consumed very little oil or dispersants.

The consumption level by the consumers of seafood in general fell drastically following the spill. As with any chemical spill, it is wise to take precautions regarding whether the spill reached the water or food supply in any capacity. Whether there is proof of contamination or not, due to the mass scale of the spill and the 24 hour news coverage the spill received for several months, it has been difficult for the seafood industry to move forward.

What do these studies have to do with the oil and gas industry? For going on three years, the oyster industry has formed task forces and has been holding lengthy meetings to determine the extent of the damage the spill has caused on the oyster industry. The more damages that the oyster industry can prove happened as a result of the spill, the more they can demand in financial restitution from the industry, BP specifically. Currently, there has been an Oyster Compensation Fund set up that pays out according to acreage and location of acreage.

This article is not to say that BP and other responsible parties are not liable for the damage they have caused by the accident, but it is important to listen to these biologist and researchers who truly understand the intricate make-up of these resilient critters, such as the oyster is proving to be.

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