COLLEGE STATION, Oct. 28, 2010 – Gulf seafood is safe to eat, but overall environmental problems may remain for years as a result of the Gulf oil spill, oceanographers and other scientists confirmed at a Texas A&M University roundtable.
Participating in a roundtable titled “The Gulf Oil Spill: Lessons Learned, And What Lies Ahead,” the researchers from various Texas A&M University departments and other A&M System-affiliated agencies and universities stressed that all tests show seafood from the Gulf poses no health problems.
“It’s all safe to eat, there’s no doubt about it,” said Sammy Ray, an oyster expert from Texas A&M-Galveston. “I ate a bunch of oysters myself last night. Nothing is wrong with Gulf seafood.”
Panelists said that it might be years before the full extent of damage to the Gulf is known. The spill dumped an estimated 170 million gallons of oil into the Gulf before it was sealed on Sept. 19.
Several faculty members and graduate students in the Oceanography Department of Texas A&M’s College of Geosciences led or participated in several on-site studies. Asst. Prof. John Kessler, for example, visited the spill site twice for a series of sample-gathering tests.
“The media tends to like answers right now about the long-term effects of the spill,” said Larry McKinney, director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi. “But there are a lot of questions that will take months, if not years, to answer.
“One good thing that resulted from the spill is that the Gulf of Mexico is finally getting some of the research attention it deserves. We have neglected much research for decades, but now it is finally happening, and with British Petroleum promising that it will spend $50 million a year for the next 10 years on Gulf research, we can do some very valuable work for years to come.”
Norman Guinasso, a senior researcher from the Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG) at Texas A&M, echoed those thoughts, saying, “At one time, there were five research vessels from Texas out there doing research. Today, there are none. I would love to see the day when Texas has at least one full-time research vessel out there doing some much-needed work.”
Guinasso, noting the overall size of the spill, added, “About 3,000 barrels of oil seep into the Gulf of Mexico naturally every day, so oil leaking into the Gulf is really nothing new. The Gulf is very used to getting a lot of oil into it.
“In the first few days of the event, our group estimated the spill at about 20,000 gallons a day. We were told by some groups that our estimate was way off, that it was only about 1,000 gallons a day. Then we all learned the truth – that it was over 60,000 gallons a day. It was bigger than anyone had imagined.”
Ray, who has studied oysters for more than 60 years, said one of the first-ever oil-related events occurred from 1946-50, when thousands of oysters were believed to be contaminated from oil in the Gulf. The matter was taken to the courts, and it was later ruled that the oil companies were not at fault for the contamination. “So oil and oysters is really nothing new, but few people seem to know about some of these very early cases,” he noted.
Piers Chapman, head of the Department of Oceanography at Texas A&M, noting frequent comparisons of the Gulf oil spill and the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, said it was not really correct to compare the two.
“They are two separate events that happened in different parts of the world and in different circumstances,” he said. “The oil spilled on the Alaskan beaches is not the same as the oil spilling into the Louisiana marshes. The Exxon Valdez was a totally different environment. It’s my opinion there won’t be terrible damage done to the marshes, but we will have to wait and see what the final results will be.”
Logan Respess, head of the Texas Sea Grant College Program, said Sea Grant used 32 different programs in response to the oil spill, from Alaska to Florida.
“We used our Sea Grant Law Center to help people file damage claims, we helped shrimpers with questions, we helped numerous government agencies. Today, there is just a small area off Louisiana and Mississippi that is closed to fishing, nothing as large as it was several months ago. So some things are gradually getting back to normal.”
McKinney compared the oil spill to a concussion, saying that “the spill was a concussion to the Gulf. It took a very hard blow, and like a concussion, there could be long-term affects for years to come, but we just don’t know what those will be right now.”
Following the panelists’ remarks, five Texas A&M departments were presented with the university’s Newsmaker Award for the help and assistance of their faculty and staff in responding to hundreds of media inquiries about the Gulf oil spill.
Contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644.