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New Orleans workshop brings together oil spill scientists and responders

The Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Team hosted a free workshop for those interested in learning more about how oil spill response works, both from an operational and a scientific standpoint. Led by Sea Grant oil spill specialist Monica Wilson and held in conjunction with the 2017 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Science and Ecosystem Conference, the February 6 session brought government, industry, and academic leaders to share perspectives on the decision making process involved in the immediate and ongoing response to any size oil spill.

The first panel of speakers included Dave Westerholm, director of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, Paige Doelling, NOAA’s regional scientific support coordinator, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Commander Kelly Denning, and USCG Lt. Ryan Dickson. All explained the government’s response processes and how their offices introduce the latest scientific research within that framework. They outlined operational procedures, including the mandate to “always do more good than harm” during a response.

Tim Nedwed of ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company opened the second panel, telling that response plans in the oil and gas industry rely heavily on field studies to inform and prepare teams for possible contingencies. Eugene Turner and Ed Overton, both of Louisiana State University, followed. Turner detailed recent Louisiana coastal wetland health studies, describing how oil intrusion impacts marshes over time. Overton explained that knowing everything possible about oil’s properties, movement, and weathering processes helps determine the best way to combat a spill. He emphasized that response plans should include every means available, old and new, to remove oil from the marine environment.

At the conclusion of both panels, speakers answered audience questions, with lively discussion ensuing. More than 70 people attended the session in person and an additional 45 joined via webinar. As part of its ongoing outreach mission, the team filmed the presentations. These videos, as well as the oil spill science publications produced by the team, can be found at http://gulfseagrant.org/oilspilloutreach/.