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Research, response for future oil spills: Lessons learned from Deepwater Horizon
Date:12/4/2012

A special collection of articles about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill provides the first comprehensive analysis and synthesis of the science used in the unprecedented response effort by the government, academia, and industry. Papers present a behind-the-scenes look at the extensive scientific and engineering effortteams, data, information, and advice from within and outside the governmentassembled to respond to the disaster. And, with the benefit of hindsight and additional analyses, these papers evaluate the accuracy of the information that was used in real-time to inform the response team and the public.

For the most part, information presented publically during the spill was accurate. Oil was rapidly consumed by bacteria, seafood was not contaminated by hydrocarbons or dispersants, and the oil budget was by and large accurate. The only part of the oil budget that was later found to be inaccurate was the fraction of oil that was chemically dispersed versus naturally dispersed. That information had no impact on public safety, seafood safety or the response effort, but understanding the amount of oil that was dispersed chemically vs. naturally is important for future such efforts.

One of the most controversial issues concerned the rate at which hydrocarbons were spewing forth from the damaged well. The lengthy time it took for the scientific team to determine the flow rate led to considerable speculation that the government was withholding information. In reality, as described by the papers, the government/academic team charged with determining flow rate took the time they needed to get it right. The accuracy of the flow rates improved with time as more and better in situ data were acquired and more independent methods reported results.

Valuable lessons were learned, with preparation and knowledge being two key elements needed to respond to disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, one of the worst environmental emergencies
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Contact: Ciaran Clayton
ciaran.clayton@noaa.gov
202-617-9668
NOAA Headquarters
Source:Eurekalert

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