60 MINUTES INVESTIGATION
Last night’s episode of 60 Minutes revealed that two chemicals, which become highly toxic when mixed with oil, have been used in Australian waters to clean up two recent oil spills. The chemicals are COREXIT 9500 and COREXIT 9527.
When COREXIT 9500 is mixed with oil, toxicity to biological matter increases 52 fold (Source: Journal of Environmental Pollution). Both chemicals were used in the Gulf of Mexico after BP’s Deep Water Horizon oil spill in 2010, the world’s worst ever offshore oil disaster. While the chemical is highly effective at making oil slicks “disappear”, it lingers on for years as an invisible, toxic, deadly contaminent. It only reveals itself under ultra violet light.
In the 3 years since the U.S. disaster, tens of thousands of Americans have fallen ill and some have died. Marine life, including dolphins and turtles, continue to wash ashore on a regular basis, poisoned by the oil and COREXIT mixture.
60 Minutes spoke to 12 victims and the families of 3 people who have died, or are dying, as a result of exposure to the toxic solution.
Both chemicals have been used in Australia and are still approved for use.
60 Minutes revealed that 2000 litres of COREXIT 9527 was used to clean up the oil spill when the Chinese bulk carrier, the Shen Neng, ran aground in 2010, spilling crude oil onto the Great Barrier Reef. Only offshore winds and tides stopped the poisonous mixture from blowing onto the Queensland coast.
In the same year, 45,000 litres of COREXIT 9500 and 9527 was used to clean up the Montara Oil spill, 220 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia. Again, only favourable weather patterns stopped the toxic slick from landing on the Broome coast. Instead, it drifted towards Timor, where it’s claimed 18 local fishermen died. A lawsuit is currently being prepared.
60 Minutes also revealed that 19,000 litres of COREXIT 9500 is currently stored in Darwin and Gladstone and would be used if an oil spill occurred today. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority says it will phase out the use of COREXIT.
NOPSEMA, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, is the agency charged with regulating the safety and environmental plans of Australia’s 17 offshore oil fields.
COREXIT 9500 and 9527 are both earmarked for use, under Montara’s new oil spill contingency plan.
When 60 Minutes spoke to NOPSEMA, it wasn’t aware of toxic nature of COREXIT. Despite NOPSEMA being responsible for approving oil spill contingency plans, Chief Executive Jane Cutler revealed she had not seen Montara’s emergency plan documents. Indeed she borrowed 60 Minutes’ copy for reference. Following questions from 60 Minutes, NOPSEMA announced it would challenge Montara’s contingency plan.
The Minister responsible, Gary Gray, twice accepted and then cancelled 60 Minutes’ invitation for an interview. Both invitations were extended before the government entered caretaker mode.