Captain’s Blog: Gulf of Mexico Oil Damage/Worse Than You Thought update

In blogging, as in much else, marrying well can make life a lot easier.

Case in point:

Through marriage to my wife I gained cousinhood with Captain Peter Willcox, who at this point in an adventurous, well-lived life, is master of the Greenpeace ship M.V. Arctic Sunrise.

Which means that because of the family connection, I get Peter’s episodic updates, his Captain’s Blog.

What follows is his latest, from a Gulf of Mexico cruise designed to assess both the damage and decision making about the Deep Horizon disaster that will define the Gulf ecosystem for decades.

First, a work about Peter:  He grew up on boats (next door to my wife-to-be, as it happens in a lefty, multi-racial sort of cooperative housing development in Connecticut, right on Long Island Sound. It was the kind of place where children learned how to sail at about the time they started walking and were allowed to skipper on their own from the moment they proved competent enough.

From there, Peter got involved in water-borne environmentalism on the queen of the Hudson River, the sloop Clearwater (one of Pete and Toshi Seeger’s many give-backs to the community), and then he joined up with Greenpeace.  There he rose to become  captain of the Rainbow Warrior — and was in command when French terrorists spies government-employed-murderous-thugs sunk the ship with two limpet mines, killing one crew member, Fernando Pereira.

In other words, Peter has been there and back again, and has some very hard-won knowledge of what the real world is like — a view barred to those who cannot tear Galt’s glasses from their eyes.

So — what’s in the latest of Peter’s dispatches?

Nothing to make one happy.

Here’s a sample:

Corexit is mostly what BP has used on the spill.  There are a few things to know about Corexit.  One is that is was banned in U.K. over ten years ago because it is so toxic, as in poisonous to humans and sea life. According to the label on the product, it will irritate the eyes, it is not to be inhaled, and it can cause harm to red blood cells, your kidney and liver.  The OSHA data sheet states: component substances have a potential to bioconcentrate, that human health hazard is acute.  Nice stuff.

Also, according to EPA data, Corexit ranked far above other dispersants for toxicity, and far below other dispersants in effectiveness in handling Louisiana crude.

Corexit was also used on the Exxon Valdez spill.  Now read carefully: Almost all the clean up workers who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill are dead.  According to CNN, who made efforts to warn the people of the Gulf about Corexit, the average lifespan of an Exxon Valdez spill worker is 51 years.  That’s almost 30 years less than that of the average American.   There were 11,000 people involved with the Exxon Valdez spill.

[Update:  CNN did not “report” these numbers.  Someone being interviewed on a CNN program made these claims.  CNN did report that an attorney with access to Exxon summaries of worker health files told the network that 6,722 out of 11,000 records showed health problems.]

The whole thing is below the jump.  Don’t read it if you have a short fuse.  You will detonate.


One last note: Peter isn’t a journalist and doesn’t claim to be one.


He’s an environmentalist, one with decades of experience with ocean issues.  You can judge for yourself how well he gets the story below. FWIW, here’s my take, as a sometime journo:


Peter lays out not just what he knows, but also from whence he gets his data. He distinguishes between that data and interpretation. He makes no secret of his presumptions, his starting point, and he clearly sees players who fill the roles of villain and fool.  I’m passing on this report both because it looks to me to be solid (and troubling as hell) and because Peter has given us all the apparatus we need to dig into his claims if we are so minded.

This is, if you were wondering, very different from what much more “credentialled” MSM pundits do. As soon as I have time, I’m going to write up a couple of recent offenders to illustrate the point, but truth is, no one reading this blog needs the crayon sketch.

Read on.  Peter’s got some serious sh*t to say.

What follows is Peter Willcox’s most dispatch.  It’s a shipboard update, and you are getting it as is, with minor proofing from me.

Captain’s Blog
Gulf of Mexico 2010

That’s a wrap!  One more tour in the bag.  The panic filled weekend at Galveston, trying to get ready for that leg is slowly becoming a memory.  The near sleepless nights of doing multiple CTDs are fading away.  And, we saved the best for last!

After we unloaded the EARS gear in Gulfport, we waited a couple days for the truck to show up from California with a submarine.  We expected them sooner, but it took a day for someone in their logistics department to realize that Gulfport is in Mississippi and not Arizona.  A supporter loaned us his sub for the work.  A very nice supporter!

The Deep Worker 2 is the big brother to the Deep Worker we used in the Bering Sea three years ago.  Its really just two Deep Workers bolted together.  The advantage is you can take down a less trained person in the other chamber. I say less trained, because the “passenger” is still responsible for maintaining her or his own life support.

The idea is to take mostly scientists and a journo or two down to the bottom to see what — if any — damage was caused by the BP oil spill.

The sub crew cleaned up the sub from its cross-country ride in a container.  We then gave it a couple test dives in Gulfport harbor to make sure it was working.

Our first dive was a bit of an eye opener.  Many years ago, when I was on the Sirius, we bought a large jet rhib called the Hoolie.  It weighed close to 2.5 tons I am guessing.  Now the Sirius was a great roller. That boat could roll you head off your shoulders, and needed extra lines at the dock to keep her steady.  It was there I realized that for moving weights of more than one ton around on deck, four tag lines are required, not two.

The first launch / recovery we did with only two.  But give us credit of learning, or remembering fast.  The rest of the time, we used four tag lines, and we were all able to breath a lot easier (as in breath at all).  The first dive was plagued by bad visibility and poor communications.

Arctic Sunrise is a noisy boat.  I am not referring to what those of us living on board have to listen to.  I am referring to the underwater noise generated by the ship’s equipment.  When we were on the Espy in the Bering Sea three years ago, we were able to mount the comms antenna on a long pole that went in the water to a depth below the keel.  But it turned out the Sunrise was too noisy for this.  We used our pole (made in Galveston) to hold the sonar for location of the sub, but had to shift the comms to the jet boat.

The vis got better, the comms got better, and most of the dives were very successful.  I am happy to report that the Alabama Alps, the underwater ridge about twenty miles north of the BP accident did not show any signs of being damaged by oil.  There is more testing need to be done before the scientists are confident about their conclusions, but this is what our first looked showed.

I wish I could be as optimistic about everything else in the Gulf.  My biggest worry now is for the people who live near and work on the Gulf.

Maybe the biggest impression I got from the spill is that BP was very quick out of the gate in protecting its interests, without any concerns what so ever for the health of the people living on the Gulf.  As fast as BP was at controlling the damage, our governments, State and Federal, are completely clueless, and still do not know what they are doing. Still,… today.

Corexit is mostly what BP has used on the spill.  There are a few things to know about Corexit.  One is that is was banned in U.K. over ten years ago because it is so toxic, as in poisonous to humans and sea life. According to the label on the product, it will irritate the eyes, it is not to be inhaled, and it can cause harm to red blood cells, your kidney and liver.  The OSHA data sheet states: component substances have a potential to bioconcentrate, that human health hazard is acute.  Nice stuff.

Also, according to EPA data, Corexit ranked far above other dispersants for toxicity, and far below other dispersants in effectiveness in handling Louisiana crude.

Corexit was also used on the Exxon Valdez spill.  Now read carefully: Almost all the clean up workers who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill are dead.  According to CNN, who made efforts to warn the people of the Gulf about Corexit, the average lifespan of an Exxon Valdez spill worker is 51 years.  That’s almost 30 years less than that of the average American.   There were 11,000 people involved with the Exxon Valdez spill.

[As above:  CNN did not “report” these numbers.  Someone being interviewed on a CNN program made these claims.  CNN did report that an attorney with access to Exxon summaries of worker health files told the network that 6,722 out of 11,000 records showed health problems.]

When you try to get precise numbers on the spill, it is tough.  Lots of numbers exist.  But what I have found indicates 275 million gallons of crude oil leaked out of the busted well (Exxon Valdez spill was 11 million).  BP used 2 million gallons of Corexit.  On May 20th, the EPA told BP to stop using Corexit.  BP at that time said that they had a quarter million gallons in inventory, and they were going to keep using it.   This is going to be a fatal decision.

So not only should have the people who made Corexit know better, but so should have our government.  Why did not anybody think to call up someone in Alaska, and ask, “what happened when you tried to clean up form the Exxon Valdez spill?

Bob Naman is a chemist at the Analytical Chemical Testing Lab in Mobile.  According to Naman, the poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from this toxic mix are making people sick.  PAHs contain compounds that have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic (an agent that tends to increase the frequency or extent of mutation), and teratogenic (of, relating to, or causing developmental malformation). (I am afraid we all know what carcinogenic means.)   BP sprayed Corexit out of airplanes and injected it into the geyser where the oil was gushing out of the bottom.  Says Naman,”the dispersants are being added to the water and are causing chemical compounds to become water soluble, which is then given off into the air, so it is coming down as rain, in addition to being in the water and beaches of these areas of the Gulf.”

The second week of August while we were checking sponges at Dry Tortugas, WKRG New 5 took a water sample from the area to test for dispersants.  The sample literally exploded when it was mixed with an organic solvent separating the oil from the water.  Naman, who analyzed the sample said: “We think that it most likely happened due to the presence of either methanol or methane gas, or the presence of Corexit”.


Hugh Kaufman, an EPA whistleblower and analyst, has reported this of the effects of the toxic dispersants:
“We have dolphins that are hemorrhaging. People who work near it are hemorrhaging internally. And that’s what dispersants are supposed to do … And, for example, in the Exxon Valdez case, people who worked with dispersants, most of them are dead now. The average death age is around 50. It’s very dangerous, and it’s (Corexit) an economic protector of BP, not an environmental protector of the public.”

By the middle of last summer, the Alabama Department of Public Health said that 56 people in Mobile and Baldwin counties had sought treatment for what they believed were oil disaster-related illnesses.  Have you heard the expression “tip of the ice berg”?

Yesterday morning, NPR said 1/3 of Gulf residents are showing some sign of trauma.  People lost jobs, their homes, and their lives.  And if BP is as good as Exxon was in fighting judgments, it will be years before some deserving people see any money.  When I was up in Alaska three years ago, some people still have not bee paid (20 years later).  Health care professionals see problems with anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression.

This morning NPR did a piece on the difficulties faced by people in the small fishing communities.  They drew similarities between the Exxon spill and the BP spill as opposed to natural disasters like Katrina. The report claims that natural disasters tend to pull communities together, while man made ones divide communities.


Katrina did not cause people to lose their way of life.  An Iraq veteran who had been shrimping, lost his family when after he lost his job, the BP compensation payment only came to $1,700 for six month.  He had been paid mostly in cash, and was unable to document his income.  He feels like a failure, and has contemplated suicide.

Steve Pico tracked the problems of the Price William Sound communities after the Exxon spill.  “The communities were blindsided, they did not realize what was happening to them until the suicides started, divorces started and domestic violence became acute.”  Now he is seeing the same issues start sooner in the Gulf than they did in Alaska.  After four yeas in Alaska, there were seven suicides.  There are already two in the Gulf.

And all while this was going on, our governments were saying: “come on down!  The water is fine”.  President Obama went swimming for the cameras.  What was he thinking?  It was this type of attitude that caused scenes like this one:  families swimming and sunbathing on a beach, while ten meters away, people in has mat suits were digging up the beach to try and get to the oil.

Instead of protecting us, and talking about the dangers of the over use of dispersants, our governments were saying: “the BP spill is no big deal!  You can swim in the ocean!”  I ask again, what could they have been thinking?

I think we can all understand that BP’s complete aim was to limit their exposure to liability.  This is a company that has shown repeatedly it gives not a damn for the public health.  But where was our Surgeon General?  Where was the EPA?

But it is not just people who are suffering.  The toxicity levels of the petroleum found in Pensacola Bay at frightening.  In referring to Pensacola Bay, Heather Reed, the environmental expert for the city of Gulf Breeze said, “the numbers are off the chart. It’s extremely toxic to human health.”


Lab workers had to dilute the sample 20 times just to get a reading. Reed said samples are usually diluted only once.
“The oil is very well preserved,” Reed added. “It smells very strong when pulled out of the water. It made me nauseated.” Reed in late September discovered a significant amount of oil buried in submerged sediment near Fort McRae in Escambia County while conducting independent research.


“The oil was in about 3 feet of water and was buried pretty deep in the sediment,” Reed recalled. “The mats where between 6 inches and a foot in diameter, but some were more than 2 feet in diameter. I kept digging and finding more and more.  “Finding this submerged oil is very alarming to me because it’s in such large mats,” Reed explained. “I believe it came into (the bay) in June with the initial impacts.”

Reed on Sept. 30 revisited the site and another near Barrancas Beach with BP and Coast Guard officials to inform responders of her discovery. She also discovered oil present at Johnson Beach, Fort Pickens and Orange Beach through research she conducted in September.  The topography near Fort McRae helped preserve the submerged oil. Because the area is a secluded cove, very little water flows through it – resulting in low oxygen levels.  “(The oil) is in an anaerobic environment, so there is not a lot of bacteria to break it down,” Reed explained.

Reed said that similar samples that might possibly remain submerged in the Gulf of Mexico could be extremely damaging to the marine ecosystem.  “I am concerned about upwelling events,” Reed said. “Strong currents draw up nutrient rich water and sediment from the sea floor that nourishes plankton and other organisms that are the foundation of the marine food chain.
“If an upwelling event brings up any oil material with these toxicity levels, it could be harmful to any animals near the upwelling plume.”


“I would not recommend going into the water”, she said.


She explained that the effects near the beach would be different because of more aeration.  Though no oil has been reported on Gulf Breeze shores or in local bayous, those areas could be at risk.


“We don’t have any barriers, the Coastwatchers aren’t patrolling anymore, and there has been no communication to the city of this oil entering the bay,” Reed said.  If oil entered any of the Gulf Breeze bayous, Reed explained that it would sink and become submerged just as it had near Fort McRae.  “It would definitely sink and be preserved,” Reed said. “And it would be very difficult to find.


This has been a very difficult letter to write.  I am not a dispassionate journalist.  Writing this drives my blood pressure up 20 points easily.


I have seen many ugly situations during my life.  Many of them, like the U.S. Government’s purposely experimenting on Marshall Islanders to study the effects of radiation, I have partly shrugged off because they happened so long ago (50 years in that case).  But the BP spill and its effects on the people of the Gulf are happening now.  Today.  And tomorrow, and for the next 20 years.  There are people there who need help right now.


And we know it.  We know that like the Exxon Valdez spill, the people who did the actual clean up will pay for it with lost years of their lives.  And BP will give out some money now, and then spend 20 years keeping itself and its lawyer’s rich, while the people of the Gulf suffer.  And if their track record is anything to go by, this won’t be the last time.


My last night at sea, I went up to the bridge tonight at 18.00 to relieve Ivo, our chief mate from Croatia for dinner. I looked back on the deck, and Wendy, our cook is writing in her journal.  She is not cooking dinner, because Neil, the world’s coolest R.O. is making pizza.  Johanne from Denmark is re-sizing the pilot ladder; until (on a Sunday evening) it is so dark she cannot see any more.


The rays of sunset are making spokes across the sky from the higher cumulus clouds. This is such a beautiful place, despite man’s best efforts over the last six months.  I really want to go home and see my family.   This has been one of my toughest tours in many years: the constant organizing for the next day’s activities, a crew who all worked very hard, without enough down time to catch their breath.  And in the backs of our minds, constantly the knowledge that while we were not always seeing oil float around on the surface, we were witnessing a huge disaster.


But in spite of all that, I do not want Veracruz to poke its head over the horizon after lunch tomorrow.  I could do this job forever.

Images:  Joseph Mallord William Turner, Shipwreck, 1805.

George Seurat, Bathers in Asnières, 1883-1884.

58 replies
  1. 1
    Benjamin Cisco says:

    Damn. Just damn.
    Also, Corexit appears to be another in a long line of badly-named products. Almost as if a GOPer had done the honors.

  2. 2
    El Tiburon says:

    Quick, somebody hogtie Obama before he bails out BP and forces Exxon to take a tax-refund for the taxes they never paid in the first place.

  3. 3
    fasteddie9318 says:

    Well, this is sad and all, but we can’t blame BP. That would be looking backward, and we don’t do that in this country anymore.

  4. 4
    Robert Sneddon says:

    Corexit — it’s basically kerosene, it dissolves and disperses heavier oils such as crude oil. The formulation of Corexit used in the Gulf spill is banned from use in Britain only in rocky coastal areas as it prevents limpets and other marine invertebrates from clinging to rock surfaces as well as they normally can. Open-water spraying of Corexit is permitted to disperse oil spills as is its use in non-rocky coastal areas.

  5. 5
    TJ says:

    New rule. When some politician says the seafood is safe to eat him and his immediate family eat ten pounds of it right there. Or we automatically assume he/she’s fill of shit.

  6. 6
    Maude says:

    There’s a lot of opinion in this.
    Of course there’s damage from the oil spill and that’s why offshore drilling is banned in the east Gulf etc.
    I watched the seabed biological surveys that were extensive.
    I did see sea life and it was zipping around.
    I don’t think we ever want to see another deep water well blowout and the oil/gas industry doesn’t either.
    Exxon is developing a plan which includes a large cap to go over the top of the blowout preventor ( a rough description) to contain the oil. This would prevent so much oil from gushing into the ocean.

  7. 7
    tomvox1 says:

    You know what? Maybe this really was Obama’s Katrina. Only in slow motion and with (even) less culpability. Maybe there will be less human damage from the BP Gulf Spill…but what about the ecosystem, the food chain, the future of the fisheries? How long is this disaster going to resonate? I’m not certain there was much the government could actually have done after it blew but maybe, say, getting out in front of which dispersants were acceptable and which weren’t might have been a good idea. I simply don’t know. But aside from the queasy feeling that nearly every big problem we confront today was a delayed-fuse time bomb left by Bush/Cheney/Rove for Obama to dismantle, the buck has to occasionally stop with the captain on duty. And also with us and our unfettered petroleum addiction, of course. And our short fucking attentions spans. And our utter acceptance of mediocrity from our public servants. And the glorification of psychopathic rapaciousness in our corporate overlords.

    I think I need a drink.

  8. 8

    @Robert Sneddon: This is true. The toxicity issues remain, as does the argument that Corexit was not the most effective dispersant for the Louisiana crudes to begin with.

  9. 9
    Campionrules says:

    Greenpeace. I want to take it at face value but I just can’t. Additionally, he’s wrong about Corexit being banned in the UK. Only in certain areas and situation.
    Almost all the Exxon Valdez clean up workers are dead? Really? Source please.

  10. 10
    pookapooka says:

    Well, what with this, along with the completely indiscriminate and continuing use of depleted uranium in Baghdad and environs, seems our American leaders have sown another decades-to-blow time bomb in our planetʻs midst. Gives new force to the terms “decadent” and “decimate.”

  11. 11
    Seebach says:

    Is it okay if we know this information? Perhaps we need to ask Lieberman if it’s okay if we should know this information or not.

  12. 12

    @Campionrules: It is in fact hard to say how many of the Exxon Valdez clean up workers fared. See this Pro Publica short for a glimpse why.

    It doesn’t source Peter’s claim (I’ll ask him where he got that number) but it does suggest that the old adage, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence is true — not surprising when it is in the interest of the parties involved not to know inconvenient results.

  13. 13
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @thomas Levenson:

    Apart from Corexit there were no other oil dispersants available at 24 hours notice and in thousand-ton lots actually stockpiled in the Gulf coast ports. While the gusher was gushing throughout June and July there were many press reports about brilliant new experimental dispersant materials which had not actually been tested for their own toxicity and persistence levels but which could be manufactured and delivered to the Gulf in six months time in hundred-ton batches. Maybe. If someone paid a few million bucks for the production facilities and if and if…

    There was more snake oil than crude oil spilled during the time the Macondo well was flowing unconstrained. All sorts of magical thinking was going on, miracle engineering and simplistic solutions — sink a battleship on the well! Pipe the gusher to the surface and set fire to it there! Etc. etc. The best of these solutions would have done no good, the middling ones would have just got in the way of fixing the problem thoroughly and the worst ideas would have killed a whole lot more people. Everyone had a blog and they weren’t afraid to use it to tell the world how the experts were screwing it all up and how they, as super-geniuses had the Right Solution.

  14. 14
    Adam C says:

    @Seebach: +1
    I’m pretty sure Greenpeace is a terrorist organization.

  15. 15
    RoonieRoo says:

    Amazingly opposite of what I’ve been getting from my family relations via marriage. My brother-in-law works for A&M Oceanography and was out there at the well head during all stages and recently has been going back out for more testing of the seabed.

    The big difference between the information coming from him is he has NO political agenda and is just a techie out there doing work with the scientists.

    He brings back fantastic photos of what he is seeing out there, life and all. My BIL is not an apologist and as his family is from New Orleans, he is very directly affected by this. But all I see in your cousin’s take is more of the same that the pundits are spewing for the other side. Political driven twisting of the facts and “Oh the fear!”

  16. 16
    Cackalacka says:

    I’m curious as to the newcomer’s (particularly those who cast doubt on the source) IP addresses are.

    Are these crotchety skeptics who happen to be idiots, or are they paid trolls?

  17. 17
  18. 18

    i highly suggest reading Florida Oil Spill Law on a regular basis.

    And do NOT under any circumstances eat seafood from the Gulf. We won’t even eat atlantic seafood for that matter, since the corexit and the rest of the toxic waste got caught up in the gulf stream.

  19. 19
    Seebach says:

    It’s not going to hurt anyone that I know this information, right? What if releasing this information is putting someone at risk? Can I, like… un-read this now?

  20. 20
    bkny says:

    this blog has been doing periodic updates of the lies — makes ya wanna go gulp down a platter of oysters — NOT:

  21. 21
    ricky says:


    Almost all the Exxon Valdez workers are dead. CNN reported it. They also reported the average life span of the 11,000 workers (almost all of whom are dead) is 51. It was on CNN. It must be true.

    Unfortunately the only place I could find this is in a Youtube
    video posted by someone I never heard of. It was edited to
    not include the date of the CNN broadcast, and the reporting of these facts is actually the assertion of one person, whose identity is not in the edited Youtube video, who makes both claims without substantiation in an interview.

    The chief alarmist over health effects of the Valdez cleanup is a marine toxicologist named Rikki Ott. She has raised the alarm over Corexit far and wide. Even she never made such a ridiculous claim.

    But I must add, the Renoir makes this story much more believable. If it is Renoir. It is certainly the Gulf. There is a refinery belching smoke in the background.

  22. 22

    @Robert Sneddon:
    Not so. There is this thing called reporting, and it’s useful.

    Dispersit is an alternative dispersant. It is rated at 100 percent effective in dispersing Louisiana oils. It is less toxic than Corexit (all this is at one or the other of hte links provided).

    Dispersit is manufactured by US Polychemical Corp.

    Mr. Bruce Gebhardt is the or a sales person for Dispersit in North America. So, to see whether or not there was any available dispersant he could have supplied to BP in a timely fashion, I called him. (That old trick!)

    He told me that he was actually called by BP within the first week of the spill. They asked if he could supply 20,000 gallons of Dispersit in 48 hours.

    Gebhardt told me that he said no, but he could do so in three days. He also told me that he had been recently interviewed by the EPA on this matter.

    Gebhardt went on to tell me that the BP call was a standing joke in the company — that everyone there knew that BP was going to use Corexit because of the long standing ties between Nalco (the maker of Corexit) and BP and Exxon, including a long time BP executive (now retired) on the Nalco Board of Directors. (That would be Rodney F. Chase.)

    Whether or not the BP connections to Nalco really determined the choice of dispersant I don’t know — I’ve only made the first call.

    But if you are going to claim that there were no other possible solutions to the problem in the Gulf, I’d say you ought to bring some supporting material.

  23. 23
    ET says:

    As someone who has family that spends a good amount of time in the Gulf or eating food from it I am glad to know about the dispersant but this the whole thing about the average lifespan stuff sounds a bit alarmist which makes me hesitate on the rest.

  24. 24
    Maude says:

    Ask him what those little cotton balls are called. In their normal shape, they look like the cotton you pull out of an aspirin bottle. They change shapes and go awfully fast.
    They were swimming through the cement slurry when they were plugging MC 252.
    Good to see Robert Sneddon is alive and well. Hi Robert.

  25. 25
    Cackalacka says:

    Seurat, ricky.

    You’re right, though. These assertions make me uncomfortable. Therefore, they must be false.

  26. 26
    NobodySpecial says:

    This is not Obama’s Katrina. Far from it.

    Part of the problem, I assume, is that despite everything that’s happened in the last decade, there’s not nearly enough disaster coordination for this sort of thing. The Surgeon General probably wasn’t all over this because he probably wasn’t in the loop on how much Corexit was being used or even possibly that Corexit was being used at all. Ditto the other federal agencies.

    There’s hindsight, and there’s the reality that at that moment, we were worried more about the oil than the future consequences of stopping it. Kind of like we were more worried about digging the oil out than the future consequences of sticking a straw into an oilbed miles below the ocean surface and what could go wrong.

    Just to be safe, though, I’ll stick to eating Midwestern beef and leave the shellfish alone.

  27. 27
    Cat says:

    @brendancalling’s not a racist just because racist Lisa says he is:

    brendancalling’s not a racist just because racist Lisa says he is

    Seriously? grow the up.

  28. 28
    Maude says:

    @thomas Levenson:
    Again, this is personal point of view on what was used to disperse the oil in the Gulf. I don’t remember why Dispersit wasn’t used, but there was a reason. I am far too lazy to go through all of the EPA info to dig it up.
    Name calling BP isn’t a good way to get a contract from them.

  29. 29
    Cackalacka says:


    So Maude, which source are we to lend credence to, the guy who purports to have contacted other dispersant manufacturers for telling anecdotes, or the person who calls “bullshit” and appeals to ignorance by virtue of laziness?

  30. 30
    ricky says:

    @thomas Levenson:

    The Pro Publica short sure tells you enough to know that nobody can make a credible claim about the health of Valdez workers, much less their near unanimous extinction.

    I will say the 71 year old survivor they interviewed sure is busting up the 51 year life span curve.

  31. 31
    trollhattan says:

    Chilling post!

    Worth repeating is the Gulf spill chronology, which had Corexit being used for months before the maker relented and revealed the actual ingredients, which had been shielded as proprietary.

    Got that? They’d used unprecedented amounts of the stuff, in a manner not done previously, for months before telling us what the hell was in it. Good thing to remember when considering the “fracking” solutions used in gas extraction hide behind that same shield.

    As a reminder, here’s the stuff (WP will surely screw up the columns, below):

    Environmental Protection Agency
    June 2010

    What are the chemical components of the dispersants COREXIT 9500 and COREXIT 9527?

    The components of COREXIT 9500 and 9527 are:

    CAS Registry Number Chemical Name
    57-55-6 1,2-Propanediol
    111-76-2 Ethanol, 2-butoxy-*
    577-11-7 Butanedioic acid, 2-sulfo-, 1,4-bis(2-ethylhexyl) ester, sodium salt (1:1)
    1338-43-8 Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate
    9005-65-6 Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs.
    9005-70-3 Sorbitan, tri-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs
    29911-28-2 2-Propanol, 1-(2-butoxy-1-methylethoxy)-
    64742-47-8 Distillates (petroleum), hydrotreated light

    *Note: This chemical component (Ethanol, 2-butoxy-) is not included in the composition of Corexit 9500.

  32. 32
    Robert Sneddon says:


    As I recall from reading up on this during the actual oil spill period a lot of the evil-sounding chemicals in the Corexit 9527 mixture are found in kitchen cleaning products. Basically when you’re wiping down your worktops and food preparation surfaces you’re often using something akin to Corexit, and undiluted Corexit at that. It was suggested (perhaps tongue in cheek) by someone that undertreated waste water dumped into the Mississippi by cost-cutting local authorities was contributing more contamination of Corexit chemicals into the Gulf than the spill treatment ever did.

    There was some use of Corexit 9500 early on in the spill because it was to hand in the Gulf ports as part of the contingency stockpile but once it was used up after a couple of weeks only 9527 was supplied and used due to stated worries about one of the constituents of the 9500 formulation.

  33. 33
    p mac says:

    The “mostly dead” Valdez cleanup workers is an urban legend, but the rest of the story checks out.

  34. 34
    PurpleGirl says:

    IIRC, the emergency plan for cleanups in the Gulf was found to be almost identical to the one developed for Alaska drilling sites. It even included how to deal with walruses. I find it hard to give much credence to things said by industry sources in light of the lack of current research in emergency procedures and their trying to use a plan for Alaska as relevant to the Gulf. YMMV. (And note, this comment applies only to industry sources not to its critics as I know little of that side and the people working therein.)

  35. 35
    Steve says:

    @Campionrules: So, how do you fell abot CNN? Hint: Google ‘exxon valdez clean up workers dead’. Doing your own homwwork is a good thing

  36. 36
    geemoney says:

    @Robert Sneddon: None of what you wrote is true. That’s some seriously nasty stuff in there, none of which should be in contact with skin or mucous membranes. Things made to disperse hydrocarbons will be, by their very nature, extremely toxic to biological systems. Hint: The stuff right under your skin, between it and your muscles, is not much different than the crude, as far as these things are concerned and their mode of action.

    And I’ve commented on this stuff here before. Dispersants don’t fix a thing, they just hide it and let it get further into the ecosystem. All they do is hide the problem.

  37. 37
    Quentin says:

    11k deaths? Can we have a source for that, please?

  38. 38
    james says:

    The whole point of corexit is to diffuse the look of the oil so it doesn’t look like a slick so much.

    It doesn’t make Oil vanish into another dimension. It’s strictly damage control.

    If you have ever worked in a factory, dangerous chemicals stop looking like magical solutions.

    It’s really bad… but nobody really cares, because we all know, but there isn’t anything that can be done, because all the scabs are in control of the industry.

    This is total hearsay on my part. Just having fun with it.

  39. 39
    itsEC2c says:

    My uncle, an attorney, worked with BP on the clean-up efforts as a legal adviser and was part of the decision-making team on the use of dispersant. I had a conversation with him at the time about the issue, after reading an article in the New York Times about Corexit. He said that BP had accumulated a large reserve of Corexit, the most commonly used industrial dispersant, prior to the spill, and it was the only dispersant available in the quantities needed to be used in the time frame required. My uncle is a life-long liberal and environmentalist and he said he had no misgivings about the decision, so take that for what it’s worth.

  40. 40
    Robert Sneddon says:


    You don’t drink Mr. Muscle and you don’t let surfactants (i.e. soaps) come into contact with your eyes and mucous membranes if you can help it but you quite happily eat food prepared on surfaces cleaned with them once it is diluted sufficiently and the lighter fractions have evaporated.

    Stop me if I get too technical for you, but this is how treatment of an oil spill using dispersants works. Mostly it’s down to time and biology, complicated a little in the Gulf spill case because the oil was raw with a lot of dissolved gases in it, not quite the same as a tanker spill where the gases have been separated out and only oil is left.

    Crude oil out of the well is a mixture of natural gas, light fractions such as kerosene, heavier oils and bitumen fractions plus sulphur and other stuff — sweet oil doesn’t have a lot of sulphur and the Macondo well oil was not particularly sour.

    When the oil reaches the sea surface the methane gas evaporates pretty much straight away; some methane dissolves in the sea-water on the way up but not much. The lighter petroleum fractions (such as kerosene) evaporate slower but are gone in a day or two, especially in warm water and exposed to sunlight as in the Gulf. The heavier stuff will not evaporate so easily but in any oil-rich sea area such as the Gulf there are oil-eating bacteria that normally feed on oil released from natural leaks in the seabed. The bacteria gradually convert the oil into protein and it enters the regular food cycle that way. In the case of heavy bitimunous oil deposits they can polymerise into tar over a period of time after exposure to weather and sunlight and get washed up on beaches as tarballs.

    Enter the dispersants. They are basically liquid soap for hydrocarbon-based materials, breaking up the heavier oil fractions into smaller and smaller lumps so that the total surface area is maximised and improving access to the oil-eating bacteria. Injection of the dispersants at the wellhead meant that a lot of the oil never reached the surface where nearly all of the Gulf’s fish and wildlife live, hence the reduction in the number of pictures of oiled seabirds making the news later in the year as the disaster unfolded. The dispersed oil is spread out over a greater volume rather than most of it reaching the surface, giving the bacteria more of a chance to do their work over a period of weeks or months and vastly reducing the number and amount of heavy bitumenous tarballs that are the usual permanent markers of a crude oil release.

  41. 41
  42. 42
  43. 43
    Robert Sneddon says:


    I tried to add a link to the EPA test document but the website barfed on it for some reason… probably though it was spam or similar. I’ll break it down into bits, see if you can find it that way.

    Try reassembling slash bpspill slash reports slash ComparativeToxTest dot Final dot 6 dot 30 dot 10 dot pdf

    It’s by no means conclusive, testing only two species and only with a short-period LD50 methodology. A truly extensive test would involve a range of Gulf area plants, bacteria, mammals, sponges etc. over a longer period observing effects on reproduction, mutagenic outcomes, residues in tissues yadda yadda but it was sort of scary to see the LD50 of Dispersit at only 2.9 ppm for the fish species.

  44. 44

    @Robert Sneddon: Again, actually checking the source makes for a more complete argument.

    There you will find several interesting facts. The most significant being the following:

    LSC (Lousiana Sweet Crude) alone had similar toxicity to mysids as the dispersant-oil mixtures, with exception of greater toxicity of the Nokomis 3- AA/LSC mixture. LSC alone had similar toxicity to Menidia as the dispersant-oil mixtures, with exception of greater toxicity of the Dispersit SPC 1000/LSC and Nokomis 3-AA/LSC mixtures.

    Which is to say that the dispersants oil mixture did not alter the toxicity of the oil, but did disperse those toxins more widely. It may be that this had the desired result of diluting the damaging material to the point of harmlessness — or it may have had the effect feared at the time, that of distributing harmful material over a wider range of susceptible organisms. Certainly, there is nothing in that report to suggest that the notion is crazy that dispersants were cosmetic, used to reduce the visible ugliness of the spill without reducing the actual environmental threat.

    Another interesting fact to emerge from the report is that there were several dispersants that all fell in a similar toxicity range. Recall that above I was simply using one dispersant to refute the false claim that only Corexit was available in quantities sufficient for BP’s needs. Not so, as the EPA report you cited demonstrated — at least over the life time of BPs dispersant program.

    Next, there are two issues relevant to this part of the discussion (at least): toxicity and effectiveness. Depending on the detailed performance of each compound a more toxic, much more effective dispersant could still produce less total harm than a less effective less toxic one; the devil is in the details.

    Here there is some data: the New York Times reported in May that BP was using Corexit despite the fact that there were both more effective and less toxic compounds available that BP chose not to use, preferring instead

    “to stockpile and deploy oil-dispersing chemicals manufactured by a company with which it shares close ties…”

    Enough: the point is that the simple declarative statements you make are not supported by the documents whose authority you claim without linking (and thus allowing the rest of us to validate).

    That’s a long winded way of saying Goodnight, Gracie.

  45. 45

    Dear RoonieRoo,

    You do know that the Petroleum Engineering building is named after Michel Halbouty, right? Anyone who considers A&M a centrist/uninterested party to anything energy-related hasn’t been to College Station lately.


  46. 46
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @thomas Levenson:

    Goodnight Gracie… (whatever that means).

    Dispersing the oil into fine droplets makes it easier and quicker for bacteria to consume the heavier oil fractions, removing them from the environment more rapidly. Injecting dispersant at the wellhead means less heavy oil reaches the surface and contaminates birds, aquatic mammals, surface-feeding fish etc. along the coastlines. The toxicity of the dispersant by itself as well as in combination calls into question whether its use is a good thing or a bad thing, and you declared that Corexit was used instead of the safer Dispersit for conspiratorial reasons using as your argument claims by the chief salesman for Dispersit. The report I pointed to shows that in at least one published EPA test Dispersit was proven much more toxic than Corexit to two different Gulf marine lifeforms.

    There are other reasons to use dispersant but they involve saving human lives so that may not seem as important to an environmentalist like yourself…

    They called it the City of Ships. There are pictures on the web if you want to go and look for them, the oil rigs and tankers and drillships and support vessels holding position directly above the gusher, clustered tightly together in a couple of square kilometres in the exact location where oil from the well below would reach the surface. Without dispersant being used at the wellhead those vessels would be sailing in a sea of highly combustible thick oil sludge while they worked to cap the well and control its outflow. If something had gone wrong and fire had broken out in that situation then hundreds of brave dedicated people could have been killed and the operation to cap the well aborted.

  47. 47

    @Robert Sneddon: Goodnight Gracie means I’m done wrangling with you.

    The proximate reason is that you make claim after claim without supporting them in any reliable way. I don’t like having to track down documents you tell me mean one thing that on reading turn out to be rather different.

    As for your vile canard that environmentalists in general or myself in particular do not value human life, that’s the clincher. I hope tossing that little word bomb makes you happy gets you crossed off the list of those I find worth bothering with, no matter what the quality (or not) of your “arguments” (sic).

  48. 48
    low-tech cyclist says:

    @thomas Levenson:

    It is in fact hard to say how many of the Exxon Valdez clean up workers fared. See this Pro Publica short for a glimpse why.

    It doesn’t source Peter’s claim (I’ll ask him where he got that number) but it does suggest that the old adage, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence is true—not surprising when it is in the interest of the parties involved not to know inconvenient results.

    So the absence of evidence means that you and your in-law can make up any bullshit claim you want to, and the onus is on us to prove you wrong?

    That’s not how it works. You can’t say almost all of the 11,000 Exxon Valdez cleanup workers are dead, without some evidence that that is the case. The onus is on you to have some substantiation for this before you say it.

  49. 49
    Jrod the Cookie Thief says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    There are other reasons to use dispersant but they involve saving human lives so that may not seem as important to an environmentalist like yourself…

    Eat shit. Jeezus, why not just slap Tom with your cock. It’d be less insulting.

    Sure, clearly it’s BP who really cares about human life. Those silly envirotards only care about shagging hippie chicks and eating granola. Surely their warnings about the premature deaths of those exposed to Corexit are just tricks to help them hump whales or something.

  50. 50
    Jrod the Cookie Thief says:

    @low-tech cyclist: It was reported on CNN.

    Now, I haven’t been able to track down any corroboration of this claim in the 5 minutes I looked, so it’s possible that expert was talking jive. But let’s not pretend this claim was just made up by a friend of a friend.

  51. 51
    low-tech cyclist says:

    @Jrod the Cookie Thief:

    It was reported on CNN.

    No, someone interviewed by CNN made these claims. We don’t even know who she is, what her credentials are, or what evidence she based her claims on.

    We have no reason to believe that CNN did reporting that ascertained these claims, no evidence that CNN is ‘standing behind this story’ in any meaningful sense.

    People upthread have already pointed this out multiple times. Please do keep up.

  52. 52
    Tom Levenson says:

    @low-tech cyclist: I’m not asking you to take my word. I said I’m checking…and that you should read Peter’s piece as that of an environmentalist with decades of experience in ocean issues.

    As for the 11,000 claim — I’ll cop to this: it does not pass the basic test of being plausibly provable. I’ve watched the CNN video now, and the “expert” doesn’t make much sense. I should have put this to a more rigorous check above and I’ll update the post accordingly.

    But if the situation being discussed in Alaska is not apocalyptic, it is not a walk in the park either, as this report describes. 6,722 records out of approximately 11,000 clean up workers show health problems, according to an attorney with knowledge of those records.

    How bad does it have to be to be bad enough?

  53. 53
    low-tech cyclist says:

    Tom – thanks for watching the CNN video and updating your post appropriately. You may have started off by passing on some bogus evidence that you passed along as truth because of your respect for the person you got the story from, but the fact that you’ve faced up honestly to its bogosity (if that’s a word – hell, it should be) goes a long way with me.

    As far as your sense that “you should read Peter’s piece as that of an environmentalist with decades of experience in ocean issues,” I confess I find it disturbing, given that he’s got a lot more hands-on experience with these issues than you or I, that it didn’t occur to him that this story might be less than true. Instead, reading that dispatch, it’s apparent that he’s really putting the weight of his experience and authority behind that pronouncement (“Now read carefully…”) rather than just passing it off as something he’s heard but can’t testify to personally. As a result, I’m going to have a hard time finding him credible about anything, because who am I to know when he’s testifying to things he knows firsthand, and when somebody else out there is suckering him?

    With respect to your “how bad is bad enough?” question, I guess it would depend on how bad the bulk of those 6700 health problems are. Obviously, there are a few really bad cases. A few, a few dozen, a few hundred, a few thousand? I don’t know, neither do you, and that’s the problem. Certainly ExxonMobil ought to be forced to open their records on the spill, redacting people’s names and personally identifiable information as needed. And I trust companies like Exxon and BP about as far as I could throw their headquarters buildings. But that still doesn’t tell us what they’re actually guilty of, just that they’re covering up like crazy.

  54. 54
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    But if the situation being discussed in Alaska is not apocalyptic, it is not a walk in the park either, as this report describes. 6,722 records out of approximately 11,000 clean up workers show health problems, according to an attorney with knowledge of those records.

    Well the CNN article that you linked to in your update said that there were actually about 50,000 people who worked on the Exxon Valdez cleanup. It seems that if there had been serious and widespread problems, there would have been some very public suits over the past 20 years. Not saying it’s not possible, just that the evidence is pretty sketchy.

  55. 55
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Jrod the Cookie Thief:

    There were thousands of people on ships and rigs working directly above the gusher. The use of dispersant at the wellhead a mile below them was part of the safety system that meant that no more people died in flaming wrecks during the operation. It was not used for cosmetic reasons as many ignorant people claimed, to “hide the slicks”. Stopping the use of dispersant would have put people’s lives at risk, and there were many environmentalists calling for the use of dispersant to be stopped, ignoring that risk or possibly just willing to accept the possibility of other people dying so their greenie fee-fees didn’t get hurt.

    The primary use of Corexit on the oil flowing into the Gulf was always to break up the oil into fine droplets to disperse it and speed up the natural breakdown processes. Certainly I’d expect the sales manager of a competing product of dispersant to knock Corexit and promote his own brand of dispersant ay way he could. Reading the LD50 report I referenced his product did not come out at all well in toxicity tests, but then neither did Corexit. I was surprised that some of the other products fared much better in the tests but I’ve got no idea whether they actually worked well as an oil dispersant.

  56. 56
    ProChoiceGrandma says:

    Anyone curious YET why Halliburton pd $240.4 million for an oil clean-up company 8 days before the Horizon oil spill?!?

    This article was written BEFORE the news came out that Halliburton KNEW the concrete was faulty. Hmmmm.

    So, was the Horizon oil spill an accident, or planned event? IMO, anything connected to Darth Vader Cheney is suspect.

  57. 57
    ProChoiceGrandma says:

    Does anyone have information on birth defects caused by Corexit? The Bible-thumping South may change their anti-choice stance when a multitude of pregnancies turn up horribly defective because of the enormous amount of Corexit released into the Gulf of Mexico.

  58. 58
    Mommamia says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    It says “alot”, but not all. And perhaps some of them are, however probably not combined. It’s like Bleach and Ammonia, apart they are safe and help sterilize, but combined they emit deadly fumes. Something to think about.@Robert Sneddon:

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