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Oil Industry: Dispersant Use ‘Critical’ in Preventing Oil From Hitting Shore

A report written by the oil industry laying out recommendations for future oil spill responses says that the use of chemical dispersants to break up the oil that spilled into the Gulf “was a critical element in preventing significant oiling of sensitive shoreline habitats during the [Deepwater Horizon] response.” The report, the Joint Industry Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Task Force, says “misperceptions and knowledge gaps” about dispersants led to restrictions on their use.

According to the report:

However, misperceptions and knowledge gaps led to unanticipated restrictions on dispersant use. Industry and government both need to communicate the risks and benefits of dispersant use, as well as the safety and effectiveness of dispersant products. Furthermore, additional research should focus on the behavior and long term fate of dispersed oil in the water column when dispersants are applied near the sea floor.

The report, along with another report laying out safety recommendations for subsea containment of oil, was delivered to the Interior Department today.

BP faced widespread criticism that its oil spill response plan didn’t take into account the specifics of the Macondo well or the potential for a massive spill, but the industry report says such plans are “intentionally as standardized as possible.” The report continues: “This improves the ability of government, industry and responders to prepare for events and implement an effective response.”

But the report does identify some improvements that should be made to the plans, including “the speed with which the response can by ‘ramped up’”; improvements in “spill response plan content and structure”; a clearer role for regulatory agencies; and better training exercises for spills.

The second industry report, from the Joint Industry Subsea Well Control and Containment Task Force, calls for:

  • “Focused workshops” on effective methods for cutting off the flow of oil from a leaking well, including “reviewing technologies” for relief wells and working with experts and technology vendors that “could potentially improve relief well capability.” (This recommendations comes as relief wells needed to permanently cap the Macondo well in the Gulf have not yet been completed, after months of work.)
  • The formation of a “Containment Company” that will put to use the lessons that the industry learned and the technologies that were used to respond to the Gulf oil spill in the event of a future spill.
  • More research into subsea containment of oil.

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