Unscientific tack in handling oil spill assailed

October 9, 2006

By Jonathan Mayuga
BusinessMirror, Oct. 9, 2006

A GROUP of scientists has criticized the government for failing to put more science into solutions to the Guimaras oil spill: this failure, they said, could have worsened the situation instead of mitigating its toxic effects on the environment and human lives.

Worse, they said, the government may be running out of time in dealing with the situation, particularly in salvaging what is left of the bunker fuel oil in the sunken MT Solar 1, and preventing the rest of the oil already affecting Western Visayas from hitting the Sulu Sea.

They said coordination of the clean-up, which is assigned to the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), is not enough to address the problem caused by oil spills of such magnitude without the application of science.

They said experts from UP Visayas, which are supposed to be on top of the situation, at ground zero, were not properly consulted by other government agencies involved in the clean-up.

In particular, they assailed the decision of the Coast Guard to use chemical dispersants in shallow waters—a strategy seen to create more environmental problems, even though it seems to get rid of the problem right away, on surface—aside from the fact that the intervention was already too late.

They said the window of opportunity for using chemical dispersant is small and the government’s failure to react to the situation weeks after the oil spill started to adversely affect the environment and the people living in the area cost them the opportunity of preventing the disaster.

“Dispersants can be used right after the spill. Within a few hours, maybe a day or two, but not weeks,” Maria Lourdes San Diego-McGione, a professor of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute said.

She said chemical dispersants should also not be used in shallow waters, as it will adversely affect microorganisms and other marine life underneath the ocean, seriously affecting the entire ecosystem.

Dr. Maria Auxilia T. Siringan, head of the Microbiological Research and Service Laboratory of the Natural Science Research Institute in UP, also scored the lack of transparency and the failure of the NDCC to hear out the expert opinion of scientists, specifically those from UP Visayas, before making decisions.

This was echoed by Jurgenne Primavera, a senior scientist and Pew Fellow who said the use of chemical dispersants in cleaning up sticky oil such as Petron Corp.’s bunker fuel oil is inappropriate.

“For instance, scientists were not consulted about the use of chemical dispersants. What kind of dispersants they use, what are the detergents, how much of these are to be used? We were totally left in the dark,” they said.

Another marine scientist, Dr. Wilfredo Licuanan warned the government that siphoning oil from the oil tanker underneath the ocean is dangerous: “it is too deep and too cold” at 600 feet below sea level.

Besides the bunker fuel oil is residual fuel oil with smaller quantities of distillates. “It is viscous, semi-solid at ambient temperature, [has] high sulfur and does not degrade rapidly. Chemical dispersants are not effective against it,” he said.

According to him, bunker fuel cannot be pumped out of the ship while it is under water, and the government must come up with other methods to get the remaining oil because floating it back to the surface is impossible.

The tanker is too old and pulling it back to the surface may only damage the tanker and cause the remaining oil to spill out, aggravating the situation, he said.



  1. Based on the report the scientists had mentioned things that should not be done.

    I’m just wondering if there was even a mention of what the panel of experts’ suggestions regarding best plan of action ?

  2. Eliasi, I’m sure they mentioned it during the panel discussion but perhaps our reporters missed it. Anyway, if you wish to know more about how to contain an oil spill, there are several posts in this blog about it. Click here

    Thanks for visiting the blog.

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