Over the past weekend, researchers went to northwestern Ontario and spilled diluted oilsands bitumen and crude oil into a lake. They are studying how the ecosystem responds to the substances.
The project pilot is called Freshwater Oil Spill Remediation Study. It is conducted in Ontario, at the International Institute for Sustainable Development Experimental Lakes Area (southeast of Kenora).
The leader of the experiment is Vince Palace. He explains that the area is where many experiments are done, many of them involving the whole lake. But for this experiment, they have made small enclosures to contain the oil:
“We’re using small enclosures to contain that oil.”
The scientists have created four floating rectangles, each along 2.5 meters of plants (shrub and sphagnum moss one the shoreline). The enclosures stretch 10 meters into the lake, containing 20,000 liters of water. The enclosures have been carefully affixed to the bottom of the lake with weights that will keep the contaminated water away from the rest of the lake.
The team then spilled 1.25 liters of oil in each enclosure and let it for 72 hours. After that time, professional oil-spill responders came to clean up the contaminated enclosures. Palace stated that the study focuses on what happens after the cleaning, as any contamination leaves residuals:
“We’re interested in looking at the impact of residuals.”
The team will then study how microbes, algae, zooplankton, insects, frogs and fathead minnows are affected by residuals. They will analyze samples of soil, water, and sediment – both before the spill and after cleaning it.
Oil spills can cause many problems, even cleaning after them can damage the ecosystem, says Palace:
“The problem is, in the shoreline environment, when you spill oil, often times the removal of it can be just as damaging as the impact of the oil on the shoreline environment itself. In marine environments, there are microbes present that will respond to the presence of oil to degrade it. So it may be that there is a benefit to leaving the oil in place to degrade.”
Scientists hope to find the oil-eating microbes in the freshwater environment.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.