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ATLANTA - The use of dispersants on oil leaking from the
sunken Deepwater Horizon rig could create a toxic stew of byproducts, and past
oil spills are of little help in predicting what damage could be done to the Gulf of Mexico, speakers said today at HB Litigation Conferences' Oil
in the Gulf: Litigation & Insurance Coverage Conference here.
Dispersants are used to break down oil into smaller droplets
that can be eaten by ocean microbes.
"God only knows what's being made in that scientific
experiment known as the Gulf," said Robert Bowcock of Integrated Resource
Management in Claremont, Calif.
Mixing dispersants with petroleum products could result in
extremely toxic byproducts such as 1, 4 dioxane and hydrogen sulfide, he said.
Bowcock said BP used dispersants to "conceal their crime" and that it would
have been better to allow the oil to come to the surface.
"We're basically going to turn the Gulf into an oxygen-starved
environment," Bowcock said.
Glenn "Max" Swetman of Swetman Baxter Massenburg LLC in New
Orleans said that "[u]nfortunately, not much" has been learned from other oil spills,
including how well Alaska's Prince William Sound has recovered from the Exxon
Valdez spill, because there typically have been few rigorous follow-up
Another Gulf spill, the Ixtoc I oil rig disaster, spilled
475,000 metric tons of oil, Swetman said. He said hundreds of kilometers of
crab habitat was "totally wiped out," that shrimp populations declined by as
much as 67 percent and that 80 percent of worms and amphipods were reduced
immediately after the 1978 spill. He said fishermen are still seeing the
effects of the spill 32 years later, information that, while anecdotal,
shouldn't be ignored. The Ixtoc I spill differs from the BP spill in that
it occurred in the Mexican side of the Gulf and no oil reached shore to smother
sensitive tidal areas.
Swetman said the BP spill is an opportunity to gauge the
environmental impact of a large oil spill.
"We have a lot of pre-spill data," he said. "We need
to find that pre-spill data and compare it with the post-spill data we have."