Researchers Gather Environmental Samples Following Hercules Natural Gas Well Blowout in Gulf of Mexico

GoMRIGoMRI funding is building research capacity in Gulf of Mexico

RESTON, VA – Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) funded researchers jumped into action after learning of a tragedy aboard the natural gas drilling rig, Hercules 252.  The GoMRI scientists quickly gathered to develop a plan to collect environmental samples near and at the site of the Hercules, which caught fire on July 23, 2013 as it was drilling approximately 55 miles off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico.  The scientists, some of whom were already aboard a ship conducting research on effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident, instantly realized the Hercules blowout and fire was an important opportunity to gather data and test models to provide information about effects of petroleum and natural gas on the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico.

This group of GoMRI funded researchers, who were working on different research projects at different institutions, collaboratively undertook sampling near the Hercules drilling rig to determine what was happening near the ocean surface.  They are tracking water movement, analyzing samples for natural gas and measuring oxidation rates to identify the compounds that are present and how these may be interacting with ocean microorganisms, among other things.  With the time-sensitive data on biological, chemical and physical characteristics of the incident site obtained early after the event, the models produced using the data will assist GoMRI scientists as they conduct a two-week study of sediments and possible contamination of fish in August in the location of the Hercules blowout.

“We are delighted to see how the scientists in our research consortia have gathered to collect data quickly and effectively,” said Dr. Rita Colwell, Chair of the GoMRI Research Board.  “It is rare a group can develop a research plan so rapidly.  This indicates that a major contribution of the work GoMRI has been funding is development of a vibrant and effective research community focused on understanding the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and how energy related phenomena can impact the environment of this very important part of our heritage,” Colwell said. 

The GoMRI is a 10-year, $500 million research program established by BP following the Deepwater Horizon incident.  GoMRI is independent of BP.  The GoMRI supports research that investigates the impacts of oil, dispersed oil, and dispersant on the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico and affected coastal states in a broad context of improving fundamental understanding of the dynamics of such events and their environmental stresses and public health implications.  The GoMRI will also develop improved spill mitigation, oil and gas detection, characterization and remediation technologies.

Ultimately, GoMRI is intended to improve society’s ability to understand, respond to and mitigate the impacts of petroleum pollution and related stressors of the marine and coastal ecosystems, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico.  Knowledge accrued will be applied to restoration and to improving the long-term environmental health of the Gulf of Mexico.

“As unfortunate as the blowout is, it did provide an opportunity for researchers to test their rapid response plans in a real and serious situation,” said Colwell.


Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Research Board
Press Release: August 1, 2013, 2:00 P.M. Eastern
Contact: Dr. Robert Gropp, 202-628-1500 x 250