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UT professor headed to Gulf Coast to research oil spill

9:57 PM, Jun 8, 2010   |    comments
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It's been 50 days since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig accident caused a severe rupture to an oil well in the Gulf Coast.  Oil continues to spew out of the well, which experts say is threatening the ecosystem and the lives of many.

University of Tennessee professor Dr. Gregory Button is headed to the Louisiana coast to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill there.  He's studied extreme events for more than two decades, disasters from the Exxon Valdez spill in 1993 to the Murphy oil spill that happened after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Dr. Button is an environmental anthropolotist.  He's interested in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.  About the Deepwater Horizon spill he said, "As I like to say, 'Once the genie's out of th ebottle, it's out of the bottle, and hard to put back in.  And, that's one of the problems with oil spills in general."

It's safe to say everyone hopes the Deepwater Horizon well is capped soon.  However, Dr. Button said it will be a long time before areas in and around the Gulf Coast recover. "I think the oil will continue for many months and possibly years to come and that the oil will still remain in the environment," said Dr. Button.

It's that threat to the environment that Dr. Button hopes to study while in Louisiana.  He plans to talk with other researchers, government officials, and residents of affected areas, as well as photo document his trip.  He will use his research to finish a book on environmental disasters.  And, he hopes his research helps with future research and development for off shore drilling crisis management. "All the R&D is spent on locating and capturing the oil. Very little money and planning is put into what if a worse case scenario happens," said Dr. Button.

 Dr. Button's years of experience in researching disasters tells him oversight needs to change on this spill or clean-up efforts could suffer.  One example he gave is making Exxon responsible for the Valdez clean-up in the mid-1990s. Dr. Button said there are too many conflicts of interests when the company responsible for the spill is also responsible for the clean up. "You shouldn't put a fox in charge of a chicken coop," he said.


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