Ken Soltys Guest Blogger

Oil and Gas Exploration in Florida

Impositions upon Florida's Ecological Stability

Ken Soltys--April 19, 2018

Ken Soltys is a professional chemist who has 50 years of experience in a wide variety of environmental issues ranging from oversight of Industrial Permits to development of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), to evaluation of Health and Water Quality Impact of chemical pollutants. Ken worked for several years for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance in Boston, before retiring to Cape Coral with his wife Cathy. However, Ken has remained active in his retirement, turning to environmental education, with an emphasis upon the science of Global Climate Change, and the influence of continued high-level consumption of fossil fuels. He offers classes related to Global Climate Change through Florida Gulf Coast University Renaissance Academy in Punta Gorda and has been invited as a guest lecturer by other groups concerned about the status of Florida’s environment. Ken also provides scientific review for PASOP releases.  

Off-shore oil rigs such as shown here would interfere with the aesthetic appeal of Florida’s Gulf Coast. But even more importantly, they would threaten the environmental integrity of the Gulf Coast, its waters, and the associated Gulf Stream with a variety of toxic and polluting chemicals. The accumulation of fossil fuel products and ancillary chemicals are already becoming serious problems throughout the World’s oceans. Floridians need to think about their future health and welfare as well as that of their posterity before rushing to a decision to allow oil drilling off the Gulf Coast and near other critical environments.

I recently attended a hearing of the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission in Cape Coral to voice support for Proposal 91, which would:

“prohibit the drilling for, exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas within 9 miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast and 3 miles of Florida’s East coast.”

 

I was disappointed to see that of an audience of about 100 people, I was the only one to suggest discussion of this proposal.  Offshore drilling is a key environmental issue that has potential significant impact on Florida’s coastline; on the health of its residents; and on the state’s tourism industry. Similar concerns would be attendant with drilling conducted in and around critical surface waters, groundwaters, and expansive wetland habitats such as those associated with the Everglades and the Big Cypress Preserve 

 

As we saw with the BP Deep Water Horizon disaster, accidental oil spills pose a serious threat to the Gulf of Mexico, but there are other environmental threats that result from normal day-to-day drilling operations, even in the absence of large spills.

 

One of the most serious is the continual seepage of hazardous chemicals into the waters surrounding the drilling platforms.  These chemicals come from the drilling muds that are used to lubricate the drill during operation and carry the drilling debris back up to the drilling rig where they are recycled and reconstituted with more clays and chemical additives.

 

These chemicals include biocides, corrosion inhibitors, surfactants and lubricants.[1]  Although the concentration of these chemicals in the muds is low, the high volume of mud used during drilling makes for a significant contamination of the water. 

 

The exact combinations of chemicals vary according to local conditions, but all threaten human and marine/estuarine/aquatic life and are often far more hazardous than the actual fossil oil that also leaks out into the water.

 

Table 1 is a list of the chemicals, their function and their environmental health and safety (EH&S) characteristics. 

 

                      Table 1- Chemicals Associated with Oil and Gas Exploration and Extraction                                      Ingredient                   Chemical Type                   EH&S

                                       

                   Biocides                                     Glutaraldehyde;                       Very toxic to fish

                                                                       Dazomet                                   Very toxic to fish

                                                                       Bronopol                                   Decomposition products very toxic

                   Corrosion inhibitors                Quaternary alkyl aryl            Decompose to Carcinogens

                                                                        Ammonium Compounds

                                                                        NPEs                                           Endocrine disruptor

                                                                        Imidazolin                                 Acute fish Toxicity

                                                                        Phosphate esters                    Stimulates Eutrophication

                    Surfactants                               NPEs                                          Endocrine Disruptor 

                                                                        Quaternary alkyl aryl 

                                                                        Ammonium Compounds        Decompose to Carcinogens

                                                                        Polyphosphate                        Stimulates Eutrophication

                                                                        Alcohol ethoxylates               Palm Oil based

                    Lubricants

                    Refined Mineral Oils               Crude Oil Distillates               Known Human Carcinogens

                                                                        Containing aromatic              

                                                                         hydrocarbons

 

 

Whether discharged directly into Gulf waters, or indirectly through releases to Coastal waters such as Florida Bay, these hazardous chemicals can be collected by circulating water currents called eddies which are part of the Gulf Loop current. This process spreads the contaminants far from the drilling site.  The Gulf Loop Current is part of the Gulf Stream which brings warm equatorial water into the Gulf.  The warm water accelerates the decomposition of the chemicals in Table 1 to dangerous by-products.  

 

Due to on-going pollution of the Gulf, large patches of floating plastic trash are already trapped in these eddies. When the hazardous chemicals mentioned mix with the plastic particles, they adhere to the surface of the plastic and circulate with the current. Portions of this debris wash up onto beaches. Other portions sink to the ocean bottom.

 

In addition to the physical contamination, much of the plastic waste suspended in the ocean takes the form of micro plastics or plastic particles no greater than 5 millimeters. (One-sixth the thickness of a human hair.)  Tiny marine organisms called zooplankton mistake these particles for food and eat them. Larger fish eat the plankton, and the plastic particles enter the food chain, where they cause health problems for marine life and eventually, for humans. [2]

 

In order to stem the tide of life-threatening pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental impact statements needed for drilling permits must be revised to include environmental analysis for all materials used for drilling, especially for those chemicals used in drilling mud.

 

Most Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for drilling muds that I have reviewed are dangerously incomplete, vague and in many cases inaccurate.  Chemical companies must reveal the identity of all ingredients used in drilling mud and comply with environmental toxicity standards.

In photos of drilling platforms in operation, drilling mud can be seen covering the floor of the platform, the outside of the equipment and the operators themselves. Do these workers understand the true hazards of the chemicals they are working with?

We must insist that our state and federal legislators eliminate off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. We must also eliminate or greatly reduce our use of plastic by eliminating plastic grocery bags, along with single-use plastic water bottles and straws. We must also place deposits on all plastic beverage containers and create community collection stations for waste plastics.

Alternatively, efforts should be accelerated to develop biodegradable “plastics” which would also provide the durability needed for prolonged storage at costs comparable to the more recalcitrant fossil fuel-based plastics.

These measures are essential for the environmental health and safety of the workers, for marine and aquatic life and for people who live, work and vacation in coastal communities.

[1] International Association of Oil and Gas Producers report No. 342,”Environmental aspects of the use and disposal of non-aqueous drilling fluids associated with offshore oil & gas operations”.

[2] When The Mermaids Cry: The Great Plastic Tide, Claire LaGuern, Coastal Care March 2018