Oil Spill Efforts Garner Praise For LSU Man

By Jordan Walden | LSU Student

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has awarded Louisiana State University's Response and Chemical Assessment Group's principal investigator, Ed Overton, with the 2010 Superior Accomplishment Award for efforts to mitigate effects of the Gulf oil spill.

"NOAA had a wrap-up meeting, and our group was presented with this little plaque expressing its gratitude for the support that we gave," said Overton.

For more than a quarter century, Overton has worked with the NOAA, observing the chemical impact of oil spills to marine environments. "We're part of the team that tries to understand what happens to the oil that's spilled, how it changes, how it impacts the environment, and how to clean it up."

Immediately after the Gulf oil spill in April 2010, the Response and Chemical Assessment Group (RCAT) set to work immediately, even before BP's Deepwater Horizon rig collapsed.

Overton and his associates took oil samples and submitted them to a variety of tests, which aided them in predicting what was happening to the oil. "We tried to find out what kind of impact there would be by determining the chemical and physical properties of the oil."

According to Overton, oil causes several problems. The toxic chemicals can harm marine life, oil can smother plants and animals, and it can use up the available oxygen in the marine environment as it is broken down.

"As oil is spilled, it goes from very dangerous to less dangerous as its compositional changes take place," said Overton. The Response and Chemical Assessment Group worked to determine the level of the spill's danger.

According to Overton, much of the marine food web starts in Louisiana coastal marshes. "If our marshes are impacted, the habitat for all marine species is affected," said Overton.

Overton worked on several oil spills throughout his career at LSU, including the Exxon-Valdese spill in Alaska, one of the largest spills in U.S. waters, but the Gulf oil spill was different, he believes.

"When it's happening in your home territory, it hits a lot closer to home. It's more personal to us now, because it's in our gulf. Our beaches are getting soiled. It seems much more important and much more personal and gives us more incentive to work a little bit harder to make sure we limit the impact."

Overton predicts that the Gulf coast's marine environment will return to normal in one or two years. "We don't think the long-term effects are going to be bad, but we won't know for sure for five to ten years."