Science Conference Focuses on Gulf Oil Spill | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Science Conference Focuses on Gulf Oil Spill

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who was in charge of cleaning up BP's 2010 oil spill, will be the keynote speaker at an international scientific conference about the Gulf of Mexico.

His speech Monday in New Orleans kicks off hundreds of scientific presentations through Wednesday. They range from socioeconomic effects of the spill to developments in dispersant science and technology.

On Tuesday, a public forum is planned on the Gulf's ecosystems and prospects for recovery — with a chance to ask questions of spill investigators Donald Boesch and Steven Murawski.

Moderated by the National Science Foundation's David Conover, they'll cover topics including what has happened to the oil, impact on the food chain and effectiveness of the oil spill response.

Many of the studies were undertaken with some of the $500 million that BP provided for research.

One set of those studies "has really rewritten the book on understanding the movement of surface currents in the Gulf of Mexico," said Chuck Wilson, scientific director for the Gulf of Mexico Research Institute, which administers the 10-year BP grant and, with the federal Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology and related federal agencies, organized the conference.

Researchers dropped 300 "drifters" near the spot where the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded into flames in April 2010 and along the Louisiana coast to see where surface currents would take them, just as they'd carry pollutants. The drifters sent their locations to a satellite every five minutes for months, and scientists from several universities are studying the data. Fifteen will present early findings about different aspects during the conference.

"Hurricane Isaac came right through the middle of these drifters, and ... now we know what the surface currents do when a hurricane goes by. That's always been a big question," Wilson said.

A grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is paying for a group of sociological studies called Women and their Children's Health at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.

One, by assistant professor of public health Daniel Harrington, is both studying how the spill affected seafood consumption and collecting information about how much seafood people eat in coastal Louisiana.

Harrington said the federal risk assessment used to decide when to reopen waters to fishing was based on consumption rates lower than seen in some parts of Louisiana.

"If you underestimate consumption rates then you potentially underestimate risk," he wrote in the abstract for his presentation. Knowing how much seafood people in coastal Louisiana really eat will improve future health risk assessments for the area, he said.

After the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, more than 200 million gallons of oil flowed from BP's Macondo well about 50 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast. The blast killed 11 workers on the rig, which was under lease to BP PLC by Transocean Ltd.

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