Oil spill experts convene in New Orleans to help align research with future response efforts

(from The New Orleans Advocate \ Richard Thompson \ Feb. 7, 2017)

Nearly seven years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, oil spill experts are working from volumes of research toward efforts to prepare for and respond to future accidents.

Professionals across a range of sectors are in New Orleans this week for a conference aimed at sorting through the research and findings that resulted from the 2010 disaster.

Calling it “a huge, immense body of science that is now starting to come out,” John Caplis, an oil spill response coordinator for the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, acknowledged Tuesday during a keynote panel that the “magnitude of the information developed right now is a bit overwhelming” to some spill responders.

Part of the reason for the large amount of research emerging was the easier accessibility for researchers to the Gulf of Mexico, compared with Alaska’s Prince William Sound, where the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred.

Caplis and others agreed the key task now is figuring out what people need to know before a spill and what should be incorporated into planning efforts.

“You can’t figure it out during the heat of battle. This has to be information that’s digested and worked into policy during the planning phase,” Caplis said. “A lot more information is flowing now than I ever saw post-Exxon Valdez.”

Now in its fifth year, the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference was expected to draw hundreds of experts — from academia, state and federal agencies, non-governmental groups and the oil industry — to New Orleans’ Hyatt Regency hotel.

Speakers are sharing the latest oil spill and ecosystem scientific discoveries, innovations, technologies and policies at nearly two dozen scientific workshops and 250 presentations.

By collaborating earlier to design experiments and field studies, researchers and oil spill responders can find more opportunities to work in tandem, experts said.

“One of the real problems is in how the actual experiments are set up, and that is where you see the biggest debates,” said Nancy Kinner, a professor at the University of New Hampshire and director of its Coastal Response Research Center.

Topics to be covered include discoveries and new technologies that can be incorporated into future spill responses; developing strategies to reduce the harm of future spills and help communities become more resilient; and evaluating other long-term effects of spills.

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