BP uses less dispersant on oil spill, reviews other products

BP PLC has reduced its surface application of chemical dispersants on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill following questions from the US Environmental Protection Agency because the long-term effects of large volumes of dispersants in seawater are unknown.

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, May 28
– BP PLC has reduced its surface application of chemical dispersants on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill following questions from the US Environmental Protection Agency because the long-term effects of large volumes of dispersants in seawater are unknown.

US Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said May 27 that dispersants have not been applied on the surface recently although BP continues to use dispersants at the subsea level. The dispersants break up the oil so that it degrades faster.

“It’s important to understand how much care and time has been taken,” studying dispersants, Landry said during a news conference in Robert, La., adding that dispersants have helped reduce the amount of spilled oil reaching shore.

Previously, Landry has said less dispersant can be used in subsea applications than the volume that is needed to work for surface application. BP and government scientists continue monitoring water samples.

Meanwhile, BP is studying possible alternate products to the dispersant currently being used, which is Corexit 9500 made by Nalco Co., said Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP Exploration & Production.

Alternate products
An EPA directive on May 20 asked BP to identify and use a less-toxic and more-effective dispersant from a list of EPA-authorized dispersants. Corexit 9500 is on the EPA-authorized list (OGJ Online, May 24, 2010).

Suttles said BP as of May 27 considered Corexit 9500 as “the best option for subsea application” but that the company would change dispersants if it found something else that would work as well at dispersing the oil.

Availability is an issue, Suttles said, adding that BP previously could not find enough available supplies of other chemical dispersants for its immediate needs.

On May 27, he noted that the amount of oil being seen on the surface has been greatly reduced through burning and skimming operations. During May 16-25, BP also captured some of the leaking oil and gas, diverting it from adding to the spill.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told some House members on May 27 in Washington, DC, that subsea application of dispersant “bears further study” because it might be an effective tool. The oil spill response is the first time in US history that dispersants have been used in 5,000 ft of water.

Nalco comments
Nalco issued a news release calling Corexit 9500 “a simple blend of six well-established, safe ingredients that biodegrade, do not bioaccumulate, and that are commonly found in popular household products.”

The Corexit products do not contain carcinogens or reproductive toxins, Nalco said, adding that all ingredients have been extensively studied for many years and have been determined safe and effective by the EPA.

"Over the past few days, there has been substantial misunderstanding about the nature and composition of our product," said Erik Fyrwald, Nalco president and chief executive officer.

Fyrwald said Nalco made available to government regulators all information related to the product.

“As always, we remain willing to work with the government,” he said.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

More in HSE