Oil spill impact studies tend to come up against a number of problems, for which no satisfactory solutions have been found. Knowledge of the situation before the pollution is always very incomplete: despite the proliferation of marine environment surveillance databses, scientific information on the permanent state of populations and their seasonal variations remain more qualitative than quantitative.
Creating networks specific to oil spill damage assessment needs for the
whole shoreline would be excessively costly. In most cases, therefore, we
have to resort to emergency sampling from in front of the edge of the pollution,
which requires rapid mobilisation.
The organisation and contracting of complete impact studies of sufficient duration are rarely allowed for in response plans. A pilot committee should be set up. The preparation of calls for tenders and the allocation of contracts require an irreducible timeframe. By the time studies begin, sampling from the edge of the pollution is often no longer possible and the vital information is lost.
The financing and supervision of such studies is a matter of - at times heated - debate. Should they be negotiated and undertaken on public funds, with no contribution and no possible interference of the polluter, his insurers or the international compensation system? Or should those parties be invited to participate in financing and decision-making as, at the end of the day, they will be asked to reimburse the expenses? The preferred option varies from country to country.
There are also differences of opinion on technical aspects. Impact studies
can call upon large teams for several years. At what point should they be
ceased? When no more serious effects are found or when no single trace of
a localised effect can be identified? Budgetary considerations often weigh
heavily in these decisions.
Another major question is that of the dissemination of results. Information on the studies undertaken and the results obtained must be communicated to the public. But should they be made known at the end, once all results are available, or in real time with the risk that incomplete results may be misleading? Whatever the route taken, the internet is nowadays a key tool for diffusing results.
Oil spill impact on the Internet
• Exxon Valdez, Alaska - USA, 1989:
The official Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council website
A comprehensive site on the Exxon Valdez spill
• Sea Empress, Wales - Great Britain, 1996:
The website of Swansea University
The site of the British Marine Life Study Society with a copy of the Sea Empress environmental impact assessment committee
• Erika, Brittany - France, 1999:
The official site of the Erika spill follow-up programme (in French)
• Prestige, Galicia - Spain, 2002:
Access to the report on bird impact by the Galician society of ornithology (in Spanish)