Hearing on Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of a Commercial Vessel
Christopher Reddy, Associate Scientist Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry Department Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Written testimony presented to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, United States House of Representatives
June 12, 2008
Good morning Chairperson Johnson, Ranking
Member Boozman and members of the
Subcommittee.Thank you for the
opportunity to speak with you today on discharges incidental to the normal
operation of a commercial vessel. My name is Chris Reddy, and I am a scientist
at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, MA.As an organic chemist, my research focuses on
marine pollution. I have published more than 70 peer-reviewed scientific
journal articles and several book chapters on this and related subjects.I am currently studying the aftermaths of
five oil spills that have occurred from 1969 to eight months ago as well as
petroleum contamination in some of the busiest harbors in the United States.
For today’s hearing, you have asked me to give
an overview of oil inputs to the ocean from human activities with an emphasis
on those released by commercial vessels.
Petroleum Inputs and effects
Petroleum or oil is a complex mixture of
molecules formed from organic debris acted on by geologic processes over
millions of years1. The thousands of molecules that compose oil can
have widely different properties. Microbes can eat some, others are very toxic
and then some can dissolve in water at appreciable levels.
Worldwide, about 190 million gallons of crude
oil or its refined products enter the coastal waterways or oceans due to human
activity. It is either released by extreme, accidental events like oil spills (19%
of the total spilled) or via chronic discharges. These include jettisoned fuel
from airplanes (1%), activities associated with the extraction of petroleum
(6%), air pollution (8%), runoff from land sources like automobile motor oil (21%),
and then shipping operations (46%)2.Hence, it is the latter, chronic inputs by shipping operations, which release
more oil into the ocean than accidents like the recent Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay in November 2007.
However, these estimates come with a high level of uncertainty.
Our best knowledge about oil inputs is from
the National Research Council’s Oil in
the Sea III2.This book and its predecessors have represented the
state of our knowledge about oil’s inputs and fates as well as effects on the
in the Sea III, it was estimated that worldwide operational discharge by
vessels greater than 100 gross tonnes was 23 to 210 million gallons per year
with a best estimate of 70 million gallons. Therefore, it is possible that
there is at least a factor of ten difference of what we estimate and what is
released into the oceans by these vessels annually. This range is so broad
because it is difficult to measure the amount of oil released from each vessel,
to estimate the number of vessels at sea,
and what percent are in compliance with proper handling of their waste. For
example, the panelists preparing Oil in
the Sea III argued that 5 to 15% of the vessels are non-compliant and, if
so, discharge 100% of their fuel sludge. Based on select studies employing
aerial surveillance, non-compliance is commonplace3. Since the
publication of Oil in the Sea III, I
do know of any concerted effort to improve such estimates. However, these values
are lower that earlier estimates likely resulting from better technology,
education, and enforcement.
in understanding how much oil is released plays a crucial role on understanding
its effects on oceanic ecosystems. While oil has short-term immediate
ecological impacts like those often seen on television with birds coated with
black viscous oil following spills, there are also less visually arresting, but
more chronic and persistent effects that are more difficult to investigate4.
studies have shown that mixtures of lubrication, machinery, crude, and fuel
oils leaked or discharged from ocean-going vessels kill thousands of seabirds
annually5-7. Canadian researchers have estimated that 300,000
seabirds die annually from chronic oil pollution in the North Atlantic Ocean
off the coast of Newfoundland. These highest incidents of bird deaths in the
world are attributed to the close proximity of the feeding grounds of the birds
and the dense shipping routes traveled between North America
and Europe. Most often, the oiling of the bird’s
feathers leads to death
by their diminished capacity to waterproof, insulate, and retain buoyancy.
increasing and rapidly industrializing countries adding to more international
trade8, oil discharges from the normal operation of a vessel still
remains a threat. Additional studies on constraining such input terms and their
effects are necessary before a clearer picture of this problem can be achieved.
J.M. Petroleum geochemistry and geology.
New York : W.H. Freeman, c1996.
2. Oil in the Sea III: Inputs,
Fates, and Effects. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, c2003.
3. Gade M., Alpers, W. (1999)Using ERS-2 SAR images for routine
observation of marine pollution in European coastal waters. The Science of the
Total Environment. 238, 441-448.
Culbertson, J.B., Valiela, I., Peacock, E.E., Reddy,
C.M., Carter, A., VanderKruik, R. (2007) Long-term biological effects of
petroleum: Response of fiddler crabs to oil in salt marsh sediments. Marine Pollution Bulletin54, 955-962
5. Hampton, S., Kelly, P.R., Carter, H.R. (2003)
Tank vessel operations, seabirds, and chronic oil pollution in California.
F.K., Roberston, G.J., Gaston, A.J. (2004) Impacts of chronic marine oil
pollution and the murre hunt in Newfoundland on thick-billed murre Uria
lomvia populations in the eastern Canadian Arctic. Biological Conservation116,
8. Eyring, V., H. W. Köhler, A. Lauer,
Lemper, B. (2005) Emissions from international shipping: 2.
Impact of future technologies on scenarios until 2050, J. Geophys. Res.110, D17306,
* The views
expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Woods Hole
Originally published: June 12, 2008
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