First Dispersant Study Funded by Feds: COREXIT “did NOT degrade”… “It didn’t go away” — May not have even broken up the oil

News Release : First Study of Dispersants in Gulf Spill Suggests a Prolonged Deepwater Fate

Source: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, January 26, 2011
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Liz Kujawinski, standing, and colleague Melissa Kido Soule work on oil dispersant study in Kujawinski's lab.
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Liz Kujawinski, standing, and colleague Melissa Kido Soule work on oil dispersant study in WHOI’s Fourier-Transform Mass Spectrometry Facility. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

To combat last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, nearly 800,000 gallons of chemical dispersant were injected directly into the oil and gas flow coming out of the wellhead nearly one mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico.  Now, as scientists begin to assess how well the strategy worked at breaking up oil droplets, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) chemist Elizabeth B. Kujawinski and her colleagues report that a major component of the dispersant itself was contained within an oil-gas-laden plume in the deep ocean and had still not degraded some three months after it was applied.…
“We don’t know if the dispersant broke up the oil,” she added. “We found that it didn’t go away, and that was somewhat surprising.” …

The work was funded by WHOI and the National Science Foundation. The instrumentation was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. …
“Over 290,000 kg, or 640,000 pounds, of DOSS was injected into the deep ocean from April to July,” she said. “That’s a staggering amount, especially when you consider that this compound comprises only 10% of the total dispersant that was added.” …
“The good news is that the dispersant stayed in the deep ocean after it was first applied,” Kujawinski says. “The bad news is that it stayed in the deep ocean and did not degrade.”

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Breaking up is hard to do 

When oil and gas mixtures are ejected from a deep wellhead, liquid oil droplets of many different sizes form and rise toward the ocean surface. Because the smaller droplets become as dense as the surrounding water deep below the surface–in this case at about 1,100 meters—they are swept away laterally by prevailing ocean currents (left panel). When a dispersant is added at the depth of the wellhead, a component called a surfactant breaks up the oil into small droplets (middle panel). If the dispersant works perfectly, virtually all the liquid oil is in these “neutrally buoyant” droplets and is carried away before ever reaching the surface and the droplets become small enough to be consumed, or “biodegraded,” by bacteria. In the Deepwater Horizon spill (right panel), scientists found evidence that the dispersant mixed with the small droplets in the deep-water hydrocarbon plume but also discovered the oil/dispersant mix had not yet biodegraded several months after the spill. The study could not distinguish between oil droplets coated with surfactant (which would suggest the dispersant worked as planned) and surfactant floating freely on its own (suggesting the substance did not attach to the oil, as intended).

(Illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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One Response to First Dispersant Study Funded by Feds: COREXIT “did NOT degrade”… “It didn’t go away” — May not have even broken up the oil

  1. How many holes are there in the bottom of the seas all over the world, and how many are leaking like this?

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