A new study by engineering professor Michel C. Boufadel, chairman of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Temple University found large remaining pools of oil remain in gravel-sand beaches in Alaska, near the site of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, known for its disastrous effects on wildlife and local communities.
Scientists has predicted that remaining oil would biodegrade and wash away within a few years. Now they believe that the geological makeup of the gravel-sand beaches have prevented this.
Peter Hagen from NOAA says “Sea otters, sea ducks and some sea birds are producing an enzyme showing exposure to oil.” Scientists don’t know how long oil will persist in the environment now, but Boufadel “predicted it will take a long time.”
This is yet another tragic yet timely reminder of the disastrous consequences of oil spills and why it’s essential that we PREVENT them rather than relying on just cleaning up the mess afterwards. Big spills have consequences we can’t even predict. Proponents of offshore oil drilling and other hazardous ocean activities like to point to improved technologies and human response systems as a reason to put our oceans and our wildlife at risk. Stories like this are a reminder that 1) scientists and technological experts can be wrong and 2) unintended consequences can be costly.