University experts discuss effects of oil spill

Three experts gathered Tuesday from 7-8:30 p.m. in the School of Architecture’s Glasgow Hall to discuss the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The panel discussion was led by UM’s sustainability coordinator Ian McKeown.

McKeown posed questions to the panel of experts, which came from the University of Miami, Florida International University and Miami-Dade College.After the panelists answered the questions, McKeown opened the floor for questions from the audience.

The panelists each spoke briefly about the magnitude of the spill, which totaled about 200 million gallons.

“We needed to be prepared. We were very nervous. In the future, we need to work out how fast companies will get there,” said Carlos Espinosa, director of the Department of Environmental Resources Management.

In order to alleviate the negative effects of the spill, a detergent which mixed the oil with the water was also dumped into the water. Experts commented that about 30 percent of the oil consequently evaporated and, although not much is known, they believe that the rest is either below the water or was biologically degraded. About a total of 10 percent of the oil, however, was recovered by BP.

“BP did not act very fast, and it became a problem for local beaches,” Espinosa said.

Many areas under water have formed tar mats or tar balls and are believed to last for decades underwater or wash up on the shore. The spill affected populations of plankton, sea turtles and blue fin tuna. According to the experts, however, time will be a better indicator of how the spill affected these populations.

“We know [oil spills] will occur, and although there are low probabilities there are very high consequences. We can’t tell you when or how the next one will occur; hopefully it won’t happen soon,” UM expert Dr. James Englehardt said.

The spill, although massive, will not directly affect edible seafood. It will, however, be reflected on its price. The experts all agreed that seafood prices will experience generous raises.

In order to reverse consequences from the oil spill and promote a greener U, a sustainability coordinator position has been created on campus.

“Five years ago, there was no such thing as sustainability coordinating; I’m the first person to have this job. The industry is becoming popular in higher education and in businesses. There are great ways to get involved on campus and in the local government.” McKeown said.

Stephanie Parra may be contacted at