Tracking Oil from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in Barataria Bay Sediments



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



In April 2010, approximately 4.9 million barrels of oil were accidentally released into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon Macondo Mc252 Oil Spill. Some of the surface oil was carried by prevailing winds and currents and reached the coast of Louisiana impacting marsh and marine ecosystems.

One and a half years after this incident, a set of oiled marsh samples (2 grab samples) coupled with nearby subtidal and intertidal cores (12 cores) were collected from Barataria Bay, Louisiana to determine the probable source of petroleum residues present and to characterize the chemical composition of the oil. Plus, pre-spill core which was collected from Barataria Bay in 2007 was analyzed to identify the background hydrocarbon composition of the area. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH), biomarker, and stable carbon isotope compositions of selected samples were detected using a GC-MS and an elemental analyzer Conflo system coupled to a DeltaPlusXP isotope ratio mass spectrometer. The comprehensive chemical data allowed us to classify the pre and post-spill samples into 4 Groups. According to this classification, Group 1 and Group 2 samples had the highest concentrations of petroleum-derived hydrocarbons. Group 3 and background samples, on the other hand, was dominated by biogenic signatures.

Although a direct connection between the detected and spilled Macondo oils results are complicated due to confounding factors (e.g., already present hydrocarbons and weathering processes), our biomarker data indicates that both oils have similar signatures. This close genetic relationship was also identified by stable carbon isotope analysis. The impact of the Macondo Mc252 Oil Spill in Barataria Bay appears to be limited to areas closer to the source. The oil has undergone moderate weathering and has penetrated into, the at least, the top 9 cm sediments. Additionally, to examine the decadal-scale history of sedimentation in these marshes, a sediment core was analyzed for the radioisotope 137Cs. The observed sedimentation rate of 0.39 cm/yr shows that oil pollutant input into Barataria Bay has been ongoing for at least 50-60 years.