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Could a hurricane make a large oil spill worse?

4 August 2011, 11:53 am

oil in the ocean

Although surface oil would rapidly dissipate by a passing hurricane, trace oil or residue in the deep ocean would not be disturbed; however, wave energy could uncover or move nearshore submerged mats or oil buried along shorelines as a result of older spills or natural seeps.

Following oil spills, such as the BP Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010, concerns may exist about how oil residue in deeper water could be impacted if a hurricane passes over the affected area. Oil residues in deep-ocean sediments will not be disturbed by passing hurricanes and trace amounts of oil dissolved in the water column will become even more dispersed.

Wave energy from passing hurricanes may erode shorelines and uncover and move buried oil leftover by a large spill or by natural seeps in the seafloor. Oil stranded in nearshore submerged oil mats could also be remobilized.

Specifically in regards to the Deepwater Horizon spill, any remaining oil that could re-mobilize would be heavily weathered and would continue to degrade and would not travel long distances along the Gulf Coast. Oil not detected or removed might be transported locally along a shoreline or carried inland to the extent of storm surge, but would not move long distances along or across the Gulf Coast.

In addition to oil, hurricanes can generate huge amounts of debris along shorelines and inland to include damage from boats, cars, households, and facilities. Any fresh oil along the Gulf Coast that is observed during hurricane or non-hurricane events should be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard by calling the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.

For more information:


Office of Response and Restoration

NOAA Deepwater Horizon Archive

NOAA Gulf Spill Restoration

Explore: Oil and Chemical Spills

National Hurricane Center

NOAAWatch

Original article: Could a hurricane make a large oil spill worse?