BOX 5-1 Recent National Research Council Synthesis Reports Addressing Oil in the Sea and Offshore Oil and Gas Development

The following list reflects the extensive attention the NRC and government agencies have placed on the effect of petroleum in the environment.

  • Assessment of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf Environmental Studies Program: I. Physical Oceanography, 1990.

  • Assessment of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf Environmental Studies Program: II. Ecology, 1992

  • Assessment of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf Environmental Studies Program: III. Social and Economic Studies, 1992.

  • Assessment of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf Environmental Studies Program: IV. Lessons and Opportunities, 1993.

  • The Adequacy of Environmental Information for Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Decisions: Georges Bank, 1991.

  • The Adequacy of Environmental Information for Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Decisions: Florida and California, 1989.

  • Oil Spill Risks From Tank Vessel Lightering, 1998.

  • Environmental Information for Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Decisions in Alaska, 1994.

  • Improving the Safety of Marine Pipelines, 1994.

  • Tanker Spills: Prevention by Design, 1991.

  • Double-Hull Tanker Legislation: An Assessment of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, 1998.

  • Managing Troubled Waters: The Role of Marine Environmental Monitoring, 1990.

  • Using Oil Dispersants on the Sea, Committee on Effectiveness of Oil Dispersants, 1989.

  • Contaminated Sediments in Ports and Waterways: Cleanup Strategies and Technologies, 1997.

processes and structural development; and direct toxic effects on developmental and reproductive stages (Capuzzo et al., 1988).

Weathering processes are extremely important in altering the toxicity of an oil spill. Neff et al. (2000) demonstrated rapid loss of monocyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (e.g., benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene) from evaporation and a reduction of acute toxicity of the water-accommodated fraction (WAF) with loss of these compounds (see Box 5-2). With weathering processes and loss of the monoaromatic compounds, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons become more important contributors to the toxicity of weathered oils. Other factors that may contribute to alterations in toxicity include photodegradation and photoactivation (Garrett et al., 1998; Boese et al., 1999; Mallakin et al., 1999; Little et al., 2000).

Barron et al. (1999) examined the chemistry and toxicity of water-accommodated fractions, from three environmentally-weathered middle distillate oils differing in aromatic content to test the hypothesis that the aromatic components of oil are the most toxic fraction. Using short-term growth and survival tests with the mysid, Mysidopsis bahia, they demonstrated that the oil with the lowest aromatic content (expressed as PAH concentration or naphthalene concentration in WAF) had the greatest toxicity. The toxicity of the three weathered oils was consistent with the reported toxicity of unweathered middle distillates tested under similar conditions (Anderson et al., 1974; Markarian et al., 1995) and were more similar to one another when reported as total petroleum hydrocarbons. Therefore, heterocyclic compounds and other soluble components in the water-accommodated fraction of weathered oil may contribute to acute toxicity.

The importance of PAH to weathered oil toxicity depends on the concentrations present, presence of other toxic components, and the degree to which the weathered oil has been degraded by microbial and photooxidation. Neff et al. (2000) provided an estimate of the contribution of different hydrocarbon classes to the toxicity of several Australian oils that had been weathered by evaporation in the laboratory (no microbial or photodegradation). Shelton et al. (1999) showed the importance of microbial degradation on weathered crude oil toxicity. Barron and Ka’aihue (2001) argued that photoenhanced toxicity could contribute to the toxicity of crude oil in the field.

Although a large volume of literature existed in 1985 on the effects of petroleum hydrocarbons on marine organisms in laboratory studies, the majority of studies conducted prior to 1985 were carried out at concentrations higher than is environmentally realistic. Those studies contributed to our understanding of the range of effects that could occur following an oil spill and the potential for long-term consequences, but they could not be used to develop realistic scenarios of the linkages between recovery of organisms and habitats and the degradation/disappearance of hydrocarbons from the habitat. Much progress has been made since the 1985 report addressing these issues. Some of the best examples of acute and chronic toxic effects of oil to marine organisms have been derived from observations in the field following oil spills and in laboratory studies designed to replicate the exposure field of actual spill conditions.



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