Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Oil and Water Don’t Mix: Neither do Oil and Wetlands

Today the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill has been declared the largest ‘unintentional’ oil spill in history
. It also is not the only oil spill in the news. Last week EPA reported that over a million gallons of oil had spilled into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan from a ruptured pipeline.

Oil spills occur every year with impacts to both freshwater and coastal wetlands as well as other water resources. NOAA’s Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program (DARRP) website includes regional maps that show the sites of oil spills and other hazard events around the country (see Regions on the left side of the webpage It is possible to click on individual sites for detailed information about each spill and clean-up and mitigation actions.)

When an oil spill occurs, the first priority is containment. The next step is clean-up. Finally there is mitigation. It may be many years before wetlands at the site of a spill can heal. This is true even when there is extensive human intervention to clean up the soils and vegetation. And sometimes, the best solution may be to do little or nothing. Often part of the response will be to restore wetlands nearby but unaffected by the spill to replace the environmental services once provided by the spill-affected wetlands that will take years to recover.

When it comes to clean-up and mitigation not all wetlands are created equal in the sense that each spill response needs to be tailored to the kind of oil, the extent of the spill, and the types and locations of wetlands impacted. In estuaries such as those in coastal Louisiana, actions that would destroy delicate organic soils and destroy wetlands might be effective inland in riverine floodplain wetlands that have soils with a high (tougher) mineral content. Oxygen deprived (anaerobic) soils in some wetlands may inhibit natural oil-eating bacteria. Burning wetlands, which is not a good solution along the Gulf Coast, might be feasible or even beneficial for some freshwater wetlands that occur in areas subject to regular natural fires. Often there are trade-offs to be evaluated. Fresh water from rivers along the Louisiana coast may be effective in keeping the oil out of wetlands, but it may also have a negative effect on nearby oysterbeds.

Certainly one of the lessons of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill is that the Nation needs to encourage the development of better techniques for both avoiding and responding to oil spills.

Oil Spill Cleanup Technology Stuck in 20th Century, Talk of the Nation, 36 minutes, National Public Radio (NPR)

Currently, when a spill occurs in a wetland, state wetland managers are tasked with becoming knowledgeable about oil spill containment and prevention techniques. Below are some websites and resources that might be helpful.

NOAA’s Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program (DARRP)
DARRP Fact Sheet
EPA Oil Spill Program
EPA Response to Oil Spills
Oil Spill Response Techniques
Natural Resource damage Assessment and Restoration Program
USFWS Environmental Contamination Program
USEPA Natural Resource Damages (Notification and Coordination with Natural Resource Trustees)
Ad-Hoc Industry Natural Resource Damage Group
Development of Bioremediation for Oil Spill Cleanup in Coastal Wetlands

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