F.S.O. Safer: Environmental risks (Ecosystem-wide risks)
The ill-effects of an oil spill are not always immediately apparent.
[NOTE: Much of the structure and content in this series of posts on environmental risks is based on the Greenpeace briefing paper “FSO Safer: A Shipwreck In Slow Motion”, which in turn draws a lot on an article in Nature by Benjamin Q. Huynh et al called “Public health impacts of an imminent Red Sea oil spill.”]
The unseen and the unexpected
The final environmental risk identified in the Greenpeace briefing paper is really the risk that impacts from an oil spill are not immediately physically obvious or found in an expected place. I will reproduce the bullet points in full:
Oil spills can be larger than they appear because some of the oil from a spill is ‘invisible’ and not seen on satellite imagery. The extent of the Deepwater Horizon spill from the deep sea, 1,522 metres below the sea surface, extended well beyond its satellite footprint. The key point to note here is that if satellite imagery is used to determine the extent of an oil spill it could be misleading if there is ‘invisible’ oil present in areas that cause toxicity in areas of water. The Deepwater Horizon spill extended beyond the closed fisheries – in other words, some fisheries that were not closed could have been contaminated by ‘invisible’ oil that had not been detected on the satellite images. If satellite images are relied on in the event of a spill from FAO Safer, contaminated water could unwittingly be used in Red Sea desalination plants to provide drinking water, or could contaminate commercial fisheries. Similarly, fisheries that are at risk of contamination from toxic oil could remain open.
Toxicity tests to determine whether water is safe must be sensitive enough to detect low levels of contamination or there could be a risk to human and environmental health.
Spilled oil could contaminate beaches and sediment. Contamination was found more than 500 km from the Deepwater Horizon site over an area of approximately 110,000 [square] km.
That concludes the environmental risks posed by the Safer.
The final set of obvious risks presented by the Safer situation - that of impact to global trade and shipping - will be posted at a later stage.
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