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Language: English
Creator: Sandhu, Puneet
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2013
Publication Date: 2013


Subjects / Keywords: Deepwater Horizon
Corexit 9500
Corexit 9527
Science Journalism
The New York Times
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: In 2010, BP's Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the largest offshore oil spill in the United States. As part of the oil spill response, chemical dispersants were applied in unprecedented volumes, and for the first time, applied subsea. The dispersant applications generated much public debate and media coverage. The present study examines how well a major news outlet, The New York Times (NYT), explained the science of dispersants in covering the Deepwater Horizon response. Overall, the newspaper presented insufficient information about the benefits and risks of dispersant use. Many of the flaws in NYT coverage demonstrate undesirable trends in science journalism among general-audience newspapers. Yet as public access to scientific studies is limited, science journalism in the mainstream media must improve to better inform the public about science and science policy.
Statement of Responsibility: by Puneet Sandhu
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2013
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Sendova, Mariana

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Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2013 S2
System ID: NCFE004858:00001

Permanent Link:

Material Information

Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Sandhu, Puneet
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2013
Publication Date: 2013


Subjects / Keywords: Deepwater Horizon
Corexit 9500
Corexit 9527
Science Journalism
The New York Times
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: In 2010, BP's Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the largest offshore oil spill in the United States. As part of the oil spill response, chemical dispersants were applied in unprecedented volumes, and for the first time, applied subsea. The dispersant applications generated much public debate and media coverage. The present study examines how well a major news outlet, The New York Times (NYT), explained the science of dispersants in covering the Deepwater Horizon response. Overall, the newspaper presented insufficient information about the benefits and risks of dispersant use. Many of the flaws in NYT coverage demonstrate undesirable trends in science journalism among general-audience newspapers. Yet as public access to scientific studies is limited, science journalism in the mainstream media must improve to better inform the public about science and science policy.
Statement of Responsibility: by Puneet Sandhu
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2013
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Sendova, Mariana

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2013 S2
System ID: NCFE004858:00001

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DEEPWATER HORIZON DISPERSANT USE: AN ANALYSIS OF COVERAGE BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BY PUNEET KAUR SANDHU A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Natural Sciences New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Dr. Mariana Sendova Sarasota, Florida May, 2013


ii Acknowledgments With the completion of this thesis, I approach the end of my New College career. Looking back and glancing ahead I think first of the people without whom I would still be struggling to overcome myself. First, to Dr. Mariana Sendova, my adviser, sponsor, and not least of all, my guidance counselor. Thank you for your constant help, enormous empathy, and your first year, and throughout my college car eer, you have always supported me despite the tears, tantrums, and manic episodes. So also, thank you for your patience. To Dr. Maria Vesperi, for your constructive feedback on my thesis, and on my Catalyst news articles. Entering the waning field of print journalism is a terrifying prospect, but your enthusiasm and encouragement has helped me overcome self doubt and fear. Thank you for giving me hope. To Dr. Steven Shipman, in whose office I spent countless hours second year, convinced that I knew nothing about science. Thank you for showing me I was wrong. And thank you for being my go to man for questions about...anything. To Eva, for being a source of inspiration, laughter, and happiness. Your smile infects me no matter how I resist. To Andrea, my rock my first friend at NCF. Thank you for stealing your way into my heart now I cannot let you out. To Flavia, Lindsey, Zoe and all my friends, I might not have survived without your love. Finally, to my Mom, my Dad, and my sister, Aareet. For 24 years you have done what I could ask of no one else: believing in me relentlessly, and loving me unconditionally. I will always love you.


iii Table of Contents 2.1 Oil Spill Response 2.3 National Contingency Plan and Dispersant Produc 3.0 Analysis of Dispersant Coverage by The New York Times 3.3 Dispersant Cha 3.8 Coverage Reference


i v DEEPWATER HORIZON DISPERSANT USE: AN ANALYSIS OF COVERAGE BY THE NEW YORK TIMES Puneet Sandhu New College of Florida, 2013 ABSTRACT leading to the largest offshore oil spill in the United States. As part of the oil spill response, chemical dispersants were applied in unprecedented volumes, and for the first time, applied subsea. The dispersant applications generated much public debate and media coverage. The present st udy ex amines how well a major news outlet, The New York Times (NYT) explained the science of dispersants in covering the Deepwater Horizon response. Overall, the newspaper presented insufficient information about the benefits and risks of dispersant use. Many of the flaws in NYT coverage demonstrate undesirable trends in science journalism among general audience newspapers. Yet as public access to scientific studies is limited, science journalism in the mainstream media must improve to better inform the pu blic about science and science policy. Dr. Mariana Sendova Division of Natural Sciences




2 1.1 Introduction On April 20, 2010, what would become the largest offshore oil spill in the history of the United States began with the blowout of the BP Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil rig in the Gulf of Mexi co. The explosion occurred 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana at approximately 10 p.m. By the next day, news of this unfortunate event had spread like wildfire across the nation. The harbinger of this news was, of course, the media the print and electroni c media that brings the world to our doorsteps, even as events are still unfolding. The media allowed people living far from the Gulf to follow the story with equal ease and interest. The world watched with growing concern as the situation worsened by the day: a blowout, ocean fire, and eleven missing crew members; the eleven workers pronounced dead; and then, alarming news of an oil leak a mile below the ocean surface. This last disclosure caused an enormous public outcry, which further fueled months of a ttempts to plug the leak and contain the situation. A study conducted later by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) found that news media as a whole responded admirably well to the challenges of covering these events in the Gulf (PEJ 2010). What made the oil spill story unique was the fact that the breaking news angle continued for months. The main thrust of the story for a hundred days after the blowout was the environmental and industrial hazards of the spill, followed by the cleanup and containment efforts. Regular developments in the oil spill response, and on going scientific studies on impacts of the spill, prevented this story from dissolving primarily into a political debate. In a survey


3 related to the study, 50% to 6 topic from April 20, 2010 to July 28, 2010. Yet PEJ suggested media consumers displayed a thirst for the st ory that the media could not quench (2010). One aspect of the oil spill response that generated much scientific and public debate was the use of chemical dispersants. Dispersants were utilized in an attempt to prevent more oil from forming a surface slic k and reaching the shore. Instead, the chemicals drove the hydrocarbons into the water column, reducing harm to surface and shore dwelling organisms. On the other hand, dispersing oil below the Gulf surface increased the exposure of subsea organisms to the hydrocarbons. Another heated aspect of the oil response was the unprecedented application of dispersants for DWH. Dispersants had never before been used subsea, nor had they previously been applied in such large quantities. With no available case studies for comparison, scientists had theories, rather than answers, about how this unique application of dispersants might unfold. Thus, the DWH use of dispersants, especially subsea, was an experiment with the potential to go horribly wrong. The results of the experiment could affect the response options for handling future deepwater oil spills. For the purpose of this thesis, The New York Times (NYT) coverage of DWH dispersant use was analyzed. In covering the DWH oil spill, how well did NYT explain the scie nce of dispersants? Section 2.0 describes the oil spill, the science and regulation of dispersants, and common concerns regarding dispersant use in the DWH disaster. Section 3.0 presents


4 conclusions regarding NYT's dispersant coverage, with supporting ev idence from the articles. Section 4.0 contains the Discussion and Conclusion. The Discussion provides an analysis of the section 3.0 conclusions, significant omissions from NYT coverage, and a commentary on trends of science journalism among daily newspape rs with a general audience. The Discussion directly responds to the thesis question. Finally, the Conclusion suggests future areas for research. 1.2 Methods 1.2.1. The New York Times The New York Times was selected for analysis in order to demonstrate how the titans of general audience newspapers cover scientific issues. NYT is a leading national daily, with a reputation as a reliable source of information (Stocking 2011). Additionally, NYT is part of the mainstream media, and has a broad based circulat ion among the general public. Although NYT employs science journalists and has a weekly science section, the newspaper does not target a scientific audience (Stocking 2011). However, the use of dispersants was primarily a scientific issue with environmenta l repercussions. Moreover, the subsea use of dispersants for DWH was regarded as a large science experiment. The challenge, therefore, lay in the ability of the media to accurately report the science of dispersants and the progress of this experiment for t he general public. Thus, analyzing NYT coverage of the disaster, rather than coverage by a science news outlet, will best demonstrate how a reputable, broad based paper covers primarily scientific issues.


5 1.2.2. Article Selection The ProQuest database w as used to conduct a search for relevant NYT articles. This search engine allows the use of Boolean connectors to help narrow down and New York Times (ProQuest) articles from The New York Times we bsite in order to access only the published NYT articles, rather than earlier article versions that appeared online. Thus, the articles were chosen consistently, and represent only printed NYT articles. My search yielded 67 NYT articles and briefs, which appeared in the period intervening April 20 th 2010 (the date of the blowout), and December 31, 2012. The end date was chosen as such because after 2012, the relevant article frequency dropped below two articles per year. Moreover, the two articles of 2012 contained little information regarding dispersants. Finally, I cross referenced my search results with the LexisNexis database as well as The New York Times website archives, by using identical search terms. In this manner, I was able to confirm that the 67 articles accessed through ProQuest indeed constituted the entire body of relevant material available for the specified time


6 1.2.3. Angles fo r Analysis Section 3.0 presents the results of the study, organized into sections according to different coverage angles. Based on research into the use of dispersants for the DWH disaster, six major coverage angles were selected for analysis: characteriz ation of dispersants; effectiveness of the dispersants; negative consequences of dispersant use; marine toxicity of the dispersants; human toxicity of the dispersants; and coverage of scientific studies relevant to DWH dispersants. The effectiveness, conse quences, and toxicity of dispersants were, and continue to be, the primary concerns of scientists (National Commission 2011b; GAO 2012). Analyzing the relevant studies NYT reported allows for an appraisal of NYT's coverage of science research. More studies emerged after dispersant use ceased. Thus, for the scientific community, the story of the DWH dispersants did not end with the cessation of dispersant applications. Therefore, I also analyzed whether NYT kept pace with emerging studies and continued to in form the public about fresh findings. Characterization, on the other hand, includes basic details about dispersants necessary for an understanding of the chemicals, and of their applications for DWH: product names; dispersant functions; applied volumes; ap plication methods; and imagery. While imagery is not directly related to the science of dispersants, NYT's imagery may reveal biases of the newspaper. Additionally, the way NYT portrayed dispersants through imagery could greatly affect readers' perceptions of the chemicals. Before the analysis of the major angles, the time span over which NYT published articles was examined. Such an assessment reveals whether NYT provided updates for the questions that science could not answer during the months of dispersa nt applications.


7 Additionally, by examining NYT headlines, I determined the number of articles devoted to dispersants, rather than to other aspects of the spill. The sources NYT included in coverage for each angle were also examined, to determine whether NYT presented sufficient input from independent scientists. Unlike federal scientists and officials, BP affiliates, or representatives from dispersant manufacturers, independent scientists are less likely to provide biased information. 1.2.4. Content An alysis Information from each article was manually coded according to the angles selected for analysis. After coding, information from the articles was grouped together by angles, providing a better visualization of emerging patterns or shifts. Thus, sect ion 3.0 presents conclusions for each angle, rather than for each individual article. This method permits an assessment of how well the articles overall responded to each of the selected analysis angles. Therefore, the methods of this study allow for an ov erarching analysis of NYT's coverage for the science of dispersants in reporting on DWH. 1.2.5. Assumptions The present thesis is grounded in the assumption that newspapers influence the public's perception of events. As a corollary to the first assump tion, an argument can be made for the reverse: that media coverage of an event is likewise influenced by public interest. This study seeks to answer how well NYT covered the science of dispersants in reporting DWH. The assumptions presented here suggest th at NYT's dispersant coverage


8 both defined the public's view of the chemicals, and likewise, was shaped by public interest over the controversial issue.




10 2.1 Oil Spill Response: An Overview On April 20, 2010, the oil company BP, formerly British Petroleum, was in the final stages of completing an offshore exploratory well at a site the company called the Macondo Prospect (Reed & Fitzgerald 2011). BP owned the lease and operated the Macondo site, but sub contracted the drilling to Transocean Ltd., the largest offshore drilling company in the world ( Lehner & Deans 2010 ). The well was not easy to drill, causing delays and high expenses ( Achenbach 2011; Reed & Fit zgerald 2010) While in the final stages of capping the well on April 20, a series of bad decisions led to a major disaster (Achenbach 2011; Steffy 2011 ). That night, as many crew members prepared to complete work and retire to the lower deck of the Deepwa ter Horizon (DWH) drilling rig, the crew suddenly felt explosions shake the entire rig (Achenbach 2011; Reed & Fitzgerald 2011 ). The rig then lost power, caught fire, and the crew members abandoned ship. The well had blown out the pressure of the drilled h ydrocarbons (oil and gas) exceeded the downward pressure exerted to keep the hydrocarbons trapped in the reservoir ( Steffy 2011 ). Oil and gas surged up the well, ignited, and left the rig on fire. President Barack Obama described the blowout, which killed rig sank, oil gushed through underwater leaks. As oil rose to the surface, the spreading oil slick threatened fragile wetlands, marshes, and the vulnerab le coastline of Louisiana, 40 miles away from the Macondo site. Surface oil slicks the size of South Carolina reached land. The oil sullied over 600 miles of coastline. The spill affected the environment, industries, and people's livelihoods.


11 The wetland s are a shoreline buffer against strong currents and storms; as oil landed, the fish, waterfowl and wildlife that depend on the wetlands as a habitat were also threatened (Lehner & Deans 2010). The Gulf is home to many fish species, such as bluefin tuna an d the common carp; is home to endangered species such as whales and sea turtles; and is also a resource for migratory and resident birds. By August, clean up crews, researchers and officials discovered more than 2,000 oil drenched pelicans along the Gulf s hores. Another 1,200 pelicans were found dead, presumably due to consumption of oil contaminated fish. As a third of North American birds annually migrate to the Mississippi River and Gulf region, the effect on birds was global. Sixty bottlenose dolphins w ere also found dead by August, as was a sperm whale an endangered Gulf species (Lehner & Deans 2010). The spill also affected industries. By early June 2010, 37% of U.S. Gulf of Mexico waters were under a fishing ban, placing thousands of employees out of work (Lehner & Deans 2010; N ational Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling 2011a ). For the Gulf travel industry, the spill was projected to result in a sales loss of $23 billion over three years (Oxford Economics 2010). W ithin the months following the blowout, more than 300 Gulf area residents, predominantly oil clean up workers, developed symptoms of headaches, dizziness, nausea, chest pain, and respiratory distress (Lehner & Deans 2010). These symptoms are typical of exp osure to crude oil and to chemical dispersants, one of the methods used to combat the oil. Crude oil contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that evaporate into the air, where they can be inhaled, irritating the central nervous and respiratory


12 systems. Dispersants also contain chemicals that can cause respiratory distress. On July 15, after 87 days of the well leaking, BP managed to staunch the flow of oil by placing a cap on the well (Lehner & Deans 2010). Not until September 19 was the well officiall y proclaimed dead; a completed relief well intercepted the leaking well, diverting pressure from Macondo and providing a route to inject cement and mud to permanently plug the leak ( National Commission 2011a; Steffy 2011). The spill resulted in approximate ly 4.9 million barrels (200 million gallons) of crude oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. Yet after killing the well, some of the oil remained in the water. Scientists knew that this oil could persist in the environment and continue to threaten marine lif e and habitat. Two decades after the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker collision and oil spill, for instance, oil was found along the beaches of Alaska, near the spill site (Lehner & Deans 2010). Before the well was sealed, multiple response methods were used to cap the gushing leaks, and to collect the oil on the surface that threatened to reach land. As part of the oil response, chemical dispersants were applied. For the BP spill, dispersants were used in unprecedented numbers and in unprecedented ways (Lehner & Deans 2010; National Commission 2011a). The seemingly careless choice of dispersants, the apparent lack of information regarding the toxicity and effectiveness of dispersants for different oil types and at different locations, and criticisms by environmen tal groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caused public outcry over the use of dispersants for this oil spill (Earthjustice & Toxipedia Consulting Services 2011).


13 2.2 History of Offshore Oil Drilling Food, shelter, water the t hree basic needs for human survival. Yet based on the reality of day to day living in much of the world, another item might warrant addition to that list: oil. The United States alone consumes nearly 800 million gallons of oil every day (Lehner & Deans 2010). The oil we consume is provided both by importation from other countries and from domestic oil production; the latter, as of 2011, accounts for 55% of total oil consumption in the U.S (White House 2012). In 2012, the U.S. Energy Information Administr ation (EIA) projected that by 2013, domestic crude oil production would reach 6.8 million barrels per day, or about 285.6 million gallons per day, the highest production figure since 1993 (EIA 2012). The history of the U.S. oil industry began with pumping for oil on land, but as the nation's need for oil grew, so did pressures to increase domestic oil production (National Research Council 2003). Offshore drilling began as early as the late 1800s, and despite the 1969 Santa Barbara blowout (at the time, the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. waters) the trend to move into deeper, more lucrative oil producing waters gained popularity as technology advanced (National Commission 2010; Steffy 2011). In 1975, Shell Oil Company discovered the first deepwater wel l (1,000 feet or deeper) in the Gulf of Mexico (EIA 1999; National Commission 2010). Since deepwater wells produced nearly ten times as much oil as wells in shallow coastal areas, drilling further from coastlines grew rapidly (National Commission 2010). Sh ell's MENSA field, which produced oil in 1998, was the first producing well in ultra deepwater (a water


14 depth of 5,000 feet or greater) (EIA 1999; National Commission 2010, 2011a). In 1990, most of the oil and gas from the Gulf was from shallow waters, but in 1998, deepwater production finally surpassed shallow water production (National Commission 2010, 2011a). While drilling in deeper waters could pay off for greater oil production, the risks of offshore drilling at such depths made these projects more dangerous than their shallower counterparts (National Commission 2010). In deeper waters, the marine environment is under higher pressure, and any gas and oil reservoirs found at great depths exist at even greater pressures (National Commission 2011a,b). The high pressures, irregular currents, and extreme temperatures of deeper waters add additional stress on subsea drilling equipment (National Commission 2010). Such is the case in the Gulf of Mexico: pressure, heat, and time acting on sediments and organi c matter deposited from river systems to the Gulf have created vast deposits of oil and natural gas (Lehner & Deans 2010). Because of the huge amount of sediment deposited to the Gulf over time, mud layers formed in the deep low oxygen waters (Achenbach 20 11). The mud layers caused the formation of natural gas at a rapid rate. Within the layers of the rock formations from which oil and natural gas are extracted, water is trapped in the rock pores, increasing the pressure of the formations. Thus, according t o geologists, the Gulf of Mexico is overpressured (Achenbach 2011). Other deepwater drilling risks include the substitution of robots for human tasks such as ocean floor equipment inspections (National Commission 2010). The robots are necessary because o f the difficulty in accessing equipment so far below the water surface,


15 but the technology can fail. One of the greatest risks of deepwater drilling is the oil itself: if a blowout occurs, high flow rates gush huge amounts of oil and natural gas into the m arine environment. 2.3 National Contingency Plan and Dispersant Product Schedule In 1989, the U.S. had its greatest marine oil spill yet: an oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and the collision c aused the spill (Lehner & Deans 2010; NRC 2003). In response to the Exxon Valdez spill, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was created, which amended the Clean Water Act (CWA). The amended CWA required the President to make changes to the 1968 National Continge ncy Plan (NCP) (Achenbach 2011; National Commission 2011b). The NCP called on the federal government, affected state governments, and the polluter to work together to respond to an oil spill (Government Accountability Office 2012). A Federal On Scene Coord inator (FOSC) would direct the response efforts, and in the case of an offshore spill like DWH, a Coast Guard representative would serve as the FOSC. For the DWH spill, Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry served as the FOSC (National Commission 2011b). The CWA required that the NCP identify whether dispersants may be used to mitigate the oil spill; which dispersants may be employed; the waters in which certain dispersants may be used; and the volumes of dispersants that can be used safely in the affected waters (National Commission 2011b). Additionally, the NCP established regional and area state and local officials to pre authorize the use of dispersants with regard to the


16 resources risks, and oil types found in each area. Pre authorization hastens the decision making process regarding dispersants, as these chemicals are most effective when used immediately following a spill (GAO 2012). Under NCP, the EPA must produce a Product Sch edule listing approved dispersants (National Commission 2011b). The EPA is charged with obtaining toxicity and effectiveness data from dispersant manufacturers before placing the products on the Product Schedule. Area contingency plans, if they allow for t he use of dispersants, must choose a dispersant listed on the EPA's Product Schedule. For the Gulf region, the area contingency plans pre authorized the use of dispersants, but did not limit the amount or duration of use. BP gained approval from Adm. Land ry, the FOSC, to use two Corexit dispersants in response to their spill. 2.4 Problems with Dispersant Safety Regulations During the DWH oil spill response, the EPA's list of approved dispersants came under scrutiny (National Commission 2011b). At the ti me of DWH, fourteen dispersants were on the Product Schedule ( Earthjustice & Toxipedia 2011 ). Once on the list, dispersants are not tested further. As per the NCP, the manufacturer must demonstrate by testing that their product disperses at least 45% of oi l (GAO 2012). For marine toxicity testings, the NCP appendix requires that two species silverside fish and mysid shrimp be subjected to varying concentrations of the dispersant, oil, and an oil dispersant mix. Silverside fish and mysid shrimp must be obser ved for mortality rates after 48 hours and 96 hours of exposure, respectively. Thus, only acute mortality for only two species are


17 required for the toxicity test (Earthjustice & Toxipedia 2011). The test does not determine the toxicity to other species, no r does it determine non lethal and chronic effects of exposure to the dispersant and dispersant oil mix. Still other problems exist with the regulation of dispersants and the Product Schedule. The EPA requires no safety criteria to be met in order for a dispersant to be approved (Earthjustice & Toxipedia 2011). Additionally, the tested oil is Number 2 fuel oil; even with the limited toxicity tests, the effects of approved dispersants mixed with other types of oil were unknown at the time of the DWH spill Conditions under which dispersants might be used, such as varying temperatures and pressures, and the environmental persistence of a dispersant are also not investigated (National Commission 2011b). Yet dispersants placed on the Product Schedule are the template for pre authorization decisions by regional and area contingency plans. As an oil spill requires immediate response, and as no further testing is required once a dispersant is approved for use by the EPA and area contingency plans, the choice to u se dispersants in different environments is often made hastily without regard to environmental conditions or the type of crude oil leaking (National Commission 2011b). Dispersant manufacturers must submit the ingredients in their dispersants to the EPA, identifying the chemical names and the percentage by weight of each chemical in the formula (Earthjustice & Toxipedia 2011). However, under the NCP, the EPA allows manufacturers to state that information regarding the dispersant components are Confidential Business Information (CBI), so that the chemical formulations of dispersants can be withheld from the public. At the time of DWH, most of the fourteen


18 dispersants on the Product Schedule had at least some ingredients listed as CBI. Thus, for scientists wi shing to study the environmental and biological effects of dispersants in a particular oil spill, the nondisclosure of dispersant formulations hinders investigations. 2.5 The Blowout and the Gulf Oil Spill The Gulf of Mexico is a lucrative drill site, as there are an estimated 1.7 trillion gallons of oil in the U.S. owned portion of these waters (Lehner & Deans 2010). As of March 2012, the Gulf of Mexico accounted for more than a quarter of the total oil produced in the nation (White House 2012). BP i s the largest offshore producer of oil in the Gulf (Lehner & Deans 2010). On October 7, 2009, Transocean began drilling at BP's Macondo Prospect oil site. BP had submitted their drilling application for Macondo to the Minerals Management Services (MMS) now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) on February 23, 2009; lenient rules for the Gulf of Mexico allowed the project to begin quickly (National Commission 2011b). As a part of BP's application, t hey submitted an Oil S pill Response Plan for their site, including potential threats to sea lions, walruses, and sea otters; none of these species exist in the Gulf (National Commission 2011b; Reed & Fitzgerald 2011). On February 6, 2010, DWH started drilling at the Macondo prospect, after the initial drilling rig, Marianas was damaged by a hurricane (Lehner & Deans 2010). Just to rent the rig, BP paid Transocean $525,000 a day. With the cost of tools and wages, the company paid over $1 million a day on the exploratory Maco ndo project, adding pressure to finish the job quickly (Achenbach 2011). Macondo proved to be a difficult well to drill, with numerous problems with the drilling operations (Steffy 2011; Reed &


19 Fitzgerald 2011). During the project, at least four well contr ol situations occurred, in which oil and gas surged up from the well to the surface rig; these can cause a blowout if the hydrocarbons ignite (Lehner & Deans 2010). There were also problems with the blowout preventer (BOP), a device that can prevent a blow out in the case of a well control situation. The BOP can also seal the well once a blowout has occurred in order to stop potential leaks from the subsea wellhead (Reed & Fitzgerald 2011). Despite these problems, the project continued. The well began at t he ocean surface, 5,067 feet below water, and was drilled to a total depth (from ocean surface to bottom of well) of 18,360 feet (Achenbach 2011). Despite BP's Oil Spill Response Plan, neither the company nor the federal government were prepared to deal wi th a potential ultra deepwater catastrophe. On April 20, 2010, while the DWH crew finished the well to move the rig to a new project, such a catastrophe occurred: the well blew out and the rig caught fire. After two days, the rig sank. In the following day s, Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) found three leaks emanating from the sunken rig equipment. Once confirmed, Adm. Landry announced that the well was leaking up to 1,000 barrels per day. That number dramatically increased as ROVs provided clearer images of the gushing wellhead. In an early attempt to seal the leaking well, BP tried and failed to activate the BOP (Achenbach 2011; Reed & Fitzgerald 2011). BP then planned to drill a relief well to intercept Macondo. A relief well was the only way to perman ently seal the gusher, but the drilling project would take three months to complete. For the time, BP's main concern was preventing the spewing oil from reaching the coast. Toward that effort, they laid out


20 miles of boom to trap the surfaced oil, used skim mers and sorbents to collect the oil, and conducted in situ burning of the oil slicks. They also used chemical dispersants. 2.6 Chemical Dispersants and Untreated Oil Dispersants break an oil slick into tiny droplets (National Commission 2011b; NRC 2 005). Dispersants do not change the total volume of oil, nor do they make the oil disappear; rather, they change the distribution of oil. Although oil dispersants vary in composition, all are primarily composed of surfactants and solvents (National Commiss ion 2011b; NRC 1989, 2005). Surfactants contain both hydrophilic and lipophilic (or hydrophobic) groups. The hydrophilic groups mix with polar substances such as water, whereas the lipophilic groups mix with non polar substances such as oil. Oil and water are immiscible; under normal circumstances, they do not mix. However, the combination of lipophilic and hydrophilic groups in surfactants reduces surface tension, enabling oil and water to easily mix. Surfactants work at the oil water boundary, and the sol vents in chemical dispersants allow surfactants to pass through the oil to reach that boundary. Chemically dispersed oil, unlike untreated oil, will usually remain suspended in the water column. However, all oil, whether treated or not, is subject to an in crease in density due to weathering and interactions with sediments that can result in the oil being deposited to the sea floor (GAO 2012). During an oil spill, whether on the ocean surface or subsea, oil rises and forms a surface slick because oil is ty pically less dense than water (NRC 1989). On the surface, untreated oil is subject to numerous weathering processes, including photo oxidation, evaporation, and sedimentation (GAO 2012). In addition, oil can be naturally dispersed if


21 strong wave action spr eads the oil and moves it into the water column, where it may be assimilated through biodegradation and dissolution (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 2010; NRC 1989, 2005). Natural dispersion also forms oil drops, but these droplets are larg er and less numerous than those formed by chemically dispersed oil (NRC 1989, 2005). The untreated oil drops may re coalesce and rise to the surface again, though some oil may sink to the sea floor as previously described. Oil also releases VOCs harmful to human and animal health (National Commission 2011b). On the other hand, chemical dispersants reduce the viscosity and increase the solubility of oil (NRC 1989, 2005). This action prevents the smaller, dispersant treated droplets from aggregating and risin g to the surface again. As a result, cleanup workers are exposed to less oil, and thus possibly to fewer VOCs (National Commission 2011b). Because chemical dispersants reduce the surface tension of oil and form smaller oil droplets, they enhance natural d ispersion: less energy is required to further disperse the smaller droplets (NRC 1989). For untreated oil, on the other hand, natural dispersion requires a greater level of wave action to disperse oil into the water column; again, these drops are less like ly to remain subsea. Importantly, dispersants create oil droplets with a larger surface area to volume ratio, theoretically allowing oil ingesting microbes more access to the oil (National Commission 2011b). The rate of oil consumption by biodegradation th us increases, and crude oil in the marine environment decomposes faster. Yet bacteria that use oxygen to break down oil can cause hypoxic water zones, slowing further biodegradation and harming marine organisms that require high oxygen levels (NRC 2003). D ispersant use for enhanced biodegradation is thus contested because


22 of hypoxia risks. 2.7 Controversy Over Dispersant Use Dispersant use yields controversies, as both untreated and chemically treated oil have relative benefits and risks. Untreated surfa ce oil can spread to sensitive shorelines, threatening habitat, humans, and marine birds and mammals that frequent the ocean surface (National Commission 2011b; NRC 2005). Yet as dispersants shuttle oil into the water column where they can form plumes, dee pwater dwelling and benthic organisms face a greater level of exposure. While dispersant use reduces coastline and surface organism oil exposure, the oil lingers in the water column, threatening fundamental marine food chain organisms such as plankton (NRC 1989). For untreated surface oil, photo oxidation promotes oil dissolution: the interaction of oil with light creates more water soluble products (NRC 2003). However, some photo oxidation products are more toxic than the crude oil ( Lacaza &Villedon de NeV de 1976 ). As chemically dispersed oil moves into the water column, less photo oxidation occurs because less sunlight reaches the deeper oil; fewer toxic by products associated with photo oxidation are generated, but dispersed oil does not easily evaporate (NRC 2003, 2005). Other methods, such as skimmers, boom, in situ burning, and sorbents also collect oil (NRC 1989, 2003). These methods are limited because of the natural weathering of oil. The weathering process modifies the physical and chemical proper ties of crude oil such that these methods are less capable of removing petroleum. The effectiveness of these methods also depends heavily on environmental conditions, such as strong seas and


23 storms (NRC 1989). In situ burning increases air pollution, expos ing response crews to toxic chemicals (NRC 1989, 2003). Dispersants work most effectively within the first days of an oil spill, before the oil weathers (NRC 1989, 2003). As surface oil weathers, lighter oil fractions evaporate leaving heavier, more per sistent fractions behind (NRC 2003). Water may disperse through a continuous phase of these oil fractions, forming water in oil emulsions. Such emulsions form a mousse, which persists in the environment, slowing further oil evaporation. In addition, the fo rmations are difficult to collect by oil response methods. Emulsions generally float, which means tides may strand emulsified oil on beaches and shores; stranded emulsions are known as tar balls. The immediate surface use of dispersants can prevent persist ent water in oil emulsions and tar balls from forming. Applying dispersants quickly decomposes the oil, but also increases water column exposure to oil and dispersants. Dispersant use also increases the likelihood of subsea oil plumes forming (NRC 2003). Thus, not applying dispersants enhances oil exposure to shorelines and surface dwelling organisms, and increases the risks of persistent water in oil emulsions. However, applying dispersants enhances dispersant and oil exposure to the water column, and in creases the risk of subsea oil plumes. The decision between surface slicks verse subsea plumes is the choice between oil affecting the surface dwellers and habitat, verse an oil dispersant mix affecting the water column. According to Product Schedule toxic ity tests, a dispersant oil mix is generally more toxic than either component alone (NRC 2003;


24 2.8 Deepwater Horizon Dispersant Use; First Subsea Use In the case of DWH, responders quickly dealt with the expanding oil slick. Despite national, regional, and area Contingency Plans, confusion arose regarding the chain of command for oil response method approval (National Commission 2011b). Ultimately, Admiral Thad Allen, the commander of the Coast Guard, was appointed as the National Incident Commander to oversee Adm. Landry, the FOSC. Yet the EPA took a greater role in the response than outlined by contingency plans, which often delayed response methods. Oil spill responde rs, with the approval of the FOSC, began using dispersants on surface oil on April 22, 2010, the same day DWH sank (National Commission 2011b). Yet despite the presence of an oil slick on the Gulf of Mexico, the Coast Guard denied leaks for two days. The d ispersants BP used on the surface were products of the company Nalco, Corexit 9527 and Corexit 9500, both on the NCP Product Schedule ( Kujawinski et al. 2011). From April 22 to April 26, BP applied 14,654 gallons of the dispersant (National Commission 2011 b). Again, the Gulf regional contingency plan lacked limitations on volume or duration of dispersant use. On May 1, Adm. Allen reported that the response crew had begun using dispersants subsea, at the gushing wellhead 5,067 feet below the ocean surface ( National Commission 2011b). For subsea applications, BP only used the model Corexit 9500 (Kujawinski et al. 2011). The subsea use of dispersants was completely novel (National Commission 2011b). No contingency plans had even considered the use of subsea di spersants, and no data existed on subsea effectiveness. Still, approximately 3,000


25 gallons of Corexit 9500 were applied subsea before the EPA halted such operations on May 7, pending additional testing. The EPA and Coast Guard issued directives to BP to pe rform tests regarding subsea dispersant use. When the test results were submitted on May 15, both the Coast Guard and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced their approval of the subsea dispersant applications; they also required BP to monitor the eff ects and effectiveness of such use (Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center 5/15/2010). BP, the EPA and the Coast Guard believed the subsea use of dispersants had benefits. Subsea dispersants can prevent oil from rising to the surface, prote cting coastlines (Jackson Press Conference 2010). Like surface use, subsea application accelerates oil biodegradation, and so oil dissolution occurs faster (Jackson Press Conference 2010; NRC 2003). However, the dissolution of oil involves the dissolution of toxic chemicals. Thus, subsea dispersants expose aquatic organisms to the toxic dispersant oil mix and by products of oil dissolution (National Commission 2011b). As far as subsea biodegradation, scientists were not sure how many oil ingesting bacteria exist in the colder, deeper Gulf waters. Some studies found that certain dispersant components inhibit biodegradation. Since bacteria that use oxygen to break down oil can create hypoxic ocean layers, scientists were concerned that subsea dispersant applic ation would lead to deep hypoxic Gulf waters (Joint Analysis Group 2010). A hypoxic environment could hinder further biodegradation and harm oxygen dependent organisms (NRC 2003). An August analysis concluded that the mixing of plume water with surrounding oxygen rich waters prevented the persistence of hypoxic zones (JAG 2010).


26 Yet other scientists remained concerned of persistent hypoxia in the deeper Gulf (Farrugia 2011). Hypoxia was just one reason a group of scientists called for the immediate end to d ispersant use, to no avail (Shaw 2010). As DWH was the first deepwater spill, no data existed to predict the behavior of subsea dispersant oil plumes (National Commission 2011b). The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released an Oil Bu dget report in which they concluded that dispersant use added to the oil volume in the plume (NOAA 2010). Even without dispersants, they determined, wellhead turbulence had mixed oil and gas, creating deepwater plumes of naturally dispersed oil (NOAA 2010) The plumes were monitored throughout the dispersant application (Farrugia 2011). On May 20, amidst concerns of the toxicity of the Corexit dispersants, the Coast Guard and EPA directed BP to identify within 24 hours a less toxic alternative for surface and subsea use, and to begin using the alternative dispersant within 72 hours of the joint directive (Coast Guard & EPA 5/20/2010). As dispersants mixed with Louisiana Sweet Crude (the type of oil found in the Gulf) were untested, the EPA and Coast Guard could not be sure which dispersants would be most effective (Earthjustice & Toxipedia 2011). On May 26, both agencies issued another directive to BP in which they ordered BP to reduce overall dispersant use by 75%, announced a subsea dispersant application limit of 15,000 gallons per day, and ordered BP to entirely discontinue surface dispersant applications (Coast Guard & EPA 5/26/2010). Again, theoretically, surface dispersants would not work on the weathered oil that emerged from a mile below the Gulf su rface.


27 both to resume surface applications and to use subsea dispersants in greater volumes (Coast Guard & EPA 5/26/2010). Ultimately, the FOSC granted BP 64 out of 74 exemp tion requests to the subsea volume limit and surface application ban, citing an increased estimate of oil flow rates and weather conditions that limited the use of other oil recovery methods (National Commission 2011b; Letter, Adm. Allen to Congressman Mar key, 10/01/2010). Despite the directive to identify a less toxic dispersant and to use less dispersant overall, BP continued to use Corexit in large volumes, though following May 22, 2010 they used only Corexit 9500 (National Commission 2011b). While th e company had identified five plausible alternatives on the Product Schedule, BP, in a letter to Adm. Landry, insisted that Corexit 9500 was the best option (Letter from Douglas Suttles to Adm. Landry, 5/20/2010). According to the letter, Nalco representat ives told BP that Corexit reached maximum biodegradability in one month and was not persistent in the environment. BP claimed that the alternatives lacked sufficient data regarding their potential as endocrine disruptors, and that BP was unable to obtain t he chemical formulations of the alternative dispersants within the time frame indicated by the EPA. Ultimately, the letter defended the use of Corexit, stating that it was the only dispersant immediately available in sufficient quantities, that it appeared less toxic than the 5/20/2010). The EPA, unimpressed by BP's justifications and dat a regarding alternative dispersants, announced that they would conduct toxicity data to determine the best


28 dispersant (Jackson Press Conference 2010). BP argued that using large volumes of subsea dispersants would eliminate the need for surface use by pr eventing the oil from reaching the surface, a theory with which the EPA agreed (Jackson Press Conference 2010). BP and the EPA also believed subsea use could prevent water in oil emulsions. In deeper waters, oil must travel a greater distance to get to the surface, giving more opportunity for water to become entrained in oil (NRC 2003). This entrainment increases the surface tension, volume, and viscosity of the oil; the resulting emulsions persist in a stable state. To prevent the formation of water in oil emulsions, BP injected dispersants at the wellhead using ROVs theoretically, turbulence from the wellhead would mix the oil and dispersant and further enhance dispersion (Torrice & Voith 2010). In total, BP applied an unprecedented 1.84 million gallons of dispersant, of which 771,000 gallons were applied to the leaking wellhead (National Commission 2011b). In late November 2010, NOAA determined that 16% of the spilled oil had been chemically dispersed (NOAA 2010). In addition, the report estimated that 17% of the oil was recovered by siphoning oil directly from the wellhead; 13% had been naturally dispersed; 23% was either dissolved or evaporated; 5% was burned; and 3% had been skimmed. Twenty three percent of the oil was grouped as oil that bec ame tar balls, sunk, formed surface slicks, remained in the surf zone, or was cleaned up after reaching shore. With so little known about dispersants, even less is known about the deepwater application of these chemicals (National Commission 2011b). As detailed chemical formulas of dispersants on the Product Schedule were withheld from the public, and as


29 the limited NCP toxicity tests used oil other than Louisiana Sweet Crude (LSC), scientists could only hypothesize the possible effects of using these d ispersants. Meanwhile, dispersant application continued. The CBI ingredients of different dispersants were a major reason that BP could not provide adequate data on alternatives to the EPA (Earthjustice & Toxipedia 2011). CBI ingredients hindered scientifi c investigations into the toxicity of the employed dispersants (Earthjustice & Toxipedia 2011). Concern about the lack of information on dispersants grew as the public became aware of the large and novel use of the chemicals. On May 28, 2010, the Gulf Re storation Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (Earthjustice & Toxipedia 2011). In their FOIA application, the groups requested, among other things, a detailed list of ingredients and the percentage composition by weight of each of the ingredients in all the Product Schedule dispersants. The EPA did not respond quickly, and the two groups filed suit. On June 9, 2010, the EPA responded to congressional pressure. While the EPA provided most of the dat a requested by the FOIA filing groups, the EPA only listed the full ingredients particular to Corexit 9500, Corexit 9527, and two other dispersants (Earthjustice & Toxipedia 2011). However, the EPA did not include the percent chemical weight for ingredient s in any dispersants. For the remaining ten approved dispersants, the EPA refused to disclose ingredients, claiming CBI; instead, they provided an aggregate list of 57 chemicals found among all approved dispersants. The lack of information regarding prec ise chemical formulations meant scientists could only list potential effects of each of the Corexit ingredients, without knowing the


30 percent composition (Earthjustice & Toxipedia 2011). Thus, scientists had incomplete knowledge for determining the toxicity of the Corexit products, as some ingredients were only significantly toxic in certain concentrations, and those concentrations were still unknown. In a joint report, Toxipedia and Earthjustice advised the EPA to disclose the precise chemical formulations of the dispersants on the Product Schedule (2011). However, the EPA never provided the chemical formulations even for the Corexit products used for the DWH oil spill (Earthjustice & Toxipedia 2011; Farrugia 2011). On July 15, 2010, when the well was capp ed, the use of dispersants virtually ceased (National Commission 2011b). However, in a press conference with Adm. Allen on August 1, 2010, Allen stated that field responders who spotted oil from surveillance aircraft were permitted to use dispersants on a case by case basis, if no alternative clean up method was available (Allen 2010). The last logged dispersant use was on July 19, 2010 (Farrugia 2011). However, people reported observations of aircraft spraying dispersants after this date; thus, the public is unclear when dispersant use completely halted (Earthjustice & Toxipedia 2011). Eventually, more information regarding Corexit 9500 was provided as the EPA released the results of their toxicity tests on June 30 and August 2, 2010. The tests concluded or less toxic than the other available et al. 2011). The tests also confirmed that the mixture of tested dispersants with LSC was more toxic than either dispersant alone. However, th e tests were limited: they did not simulate Gulf conditions and did not test Corexit 9527 despite its month long use for DWH. The first test was a re do of the


31 Product Schedule. The second experiment tested the toxicities of Product Schedule dispersants mi xed with LSC oil. Additionally, the EPA again only tested acute toxicity for two species (Hemmer et al. 2011). Details of the tests are discussed in the next section. The facts in this section demonstrate the many gaps in knowledge regarding dispersants, despite the long history of dispersant use. The following section presents conclusions about NYT's coverage of dispersants for the DWH oil spill. DWH represents the first deepwater well blowout. The use of dispersants for the oil response was also unpreced ented. Thus, NYT reported an unfolding event with no spill for which to compare DWH. Due to national outcry over the spill, and outcry over the use of dispersants, the events in the Gulf of Mexico became national news. Yet the nature of the events was prim arily scientific.




33 3.1 Time Span The time span of the articles demonstrates that NYT covered DWH dispersants while they remained in the national spotlight rather th an in the scientific spotlight. NYT covered the issue most heavily when the use of dispersants started and when subsea application began, and continued consistent coverage up until a month after dispersant use ceased. However, the newspaper failed to provi de consistent coverage after 2010, despite the availability of more scientific research addressing previously unanswerable dispersant concerns. To the NYT reader, the dispersant issue was over in August 2010; to the scientific community, however, the end o f dispersant application marked the beginning of greater research into the consequences, effectiveness, toxicology, subsea application, and regulation of the dispersants. The vast majority of these articles (92.5%) were published in 2010, while only thr ee (4.5%) were published in 2011 and two (3.0%) in 2012. In 2010, May reflects the greatest dispersant coverage, followed by June, August, and July the months of greatest debate about dispersant use. During these months, few scientific studies were availab le specific to DWH dispersant use. The many uncertainties about dispersants prompted federal agencies to begin new research. Yet after August 2010, NYT dramatically reduced coverage despite an increase in pertinent scientific studies. Thus, NYT wrote m any articles while the dispersants were debated and used. However, the dramatic drop in coverage after 2010 reveals NYT inadequately covered dispersants from a scientific viewpoint of continuing research.


34 3.2 Headlines The headline of an article provides a loose guide to the focus of the article. The headlines of the NYT articles demonstrate a lack of coverage about DWH dispersants: in their titles (Kaufman & Rosenthal 5/28/2010; Rosenthal 5/0 6/2010 and 5/25/2010; Wald 8/01/2010). Neither of these four headlines used the dispersant product names, but referred to the products the remaining articles, including briefs and subsections of articles devoted to dispersants. However, most coverage contained dispersant information peppered throughout articles focusing on other aspects of the spill. 3.3 Dispersant Characterization 3.3.1. Product Names Many NYT arti cles focused on the controversy surrounding the particular dispersants BP used. Yet NYT inadequately and inconsistently specified the dispersants by name. Few articles provided the general brand name, Corexit. After 2010, the brand name rarely appeared in print, coinciding with the decline in NYT dispersant coverage. Even fewer articles contained the full name of the dispersant BP employed most, Corexit 9500. Significantly, no article named Corexit 9527. The general lack of product identification is a major flaw with NYT's dispersant coverage, even outside the realm of science journalism. T welve articles (18%) supplied the general dispersant brand name, Corexit. Of


35 these twelve articles, three (25%, or 4.5% of total set) gave the specific product name for Corexit 9500 (Kaufman & Rosenthal 5/28/2010; Dewan 7/15/2010; Kaufman 4/12/2011). T he nine articles containing only the general brand name do not provide sufficient information, as more than two Corexit products exist (Farrugia 2011). The remaining article s referred to the products as specifying the brand. When NYT did print the general or specific dispersant names, they did so inconsistently. Most of NYT's dispersant articles (93%) were published in 2010. Y et only ten of those articles (16%) referred to the dispersant brand, demonstrating NYT rarely identified Corexit by name. Similarly, Corexit 9500 was named in three articles over the span of approximately one year, revealing NYT sporadically named the spe cific product. After 2010, NYT greatly reduced dispersant coverage; correspondingly after 2010, the brand name appeared less often in the articles. Overall, NYT articles failed to consistently identify the controversial dispersant products, indicating n ot only poor science journalism, but poor journalism in general. 3.3.2. Dispersant Functions NYT incompletely, and sometimes inaccurately, explained the function of dispersants, demonstrating poor science journalism. Likewise, NYT rarely linked disper sant functions to reduced marine threats. As a result, NYT failed to convey the ways dispersants mitigate oil damage. The articles also poorly differentiate between the dispersants' intended actions and their unintentional consequences. In failing to provi de a


36 comprehensive explanation of the functions, benefits, and inherent risks of using dispersants, the articles construct a biased narrative. The bias would not be evident to readers with no outside dispersant knowledge. The vast majority of articles pr ovided only one function of dispersants: breaking up oil into tiny droplets. After May 6, 2010 (Rosenthal) the function expanded to explain how dispersants aid in natural dispersion by sea currents. Another function of dispersants is to increase the biodeg radation of oil, which was not mentioned until July 1, 2010 (New York Times). Both the purpose of biodegradation and aiding natural dispersion were mentioned in four articles (6.0%), demonstrating that overall, NYT paid little attention to these dispersant functions. No article stated that dispersants prevent oil from forming stable emulsions; thus, NYT did not acknowledge one of the long term benefits of dispersant treated oil (as opposed to untreated oil). In failing to demonstrate the multiple actions an d benefits of dispersants, NYT's coverage demonstrates a bias whether intentional or otherwise. 0). In fact, use of also in May 2010, were similarly misleading, stating that dispersants were used to create 010; Rosenthal 5/06/2010 and 5/25/2010). While dispersants are intended to create oil drops that sink into the water column, these articles created the erroneous impression that BP used dispersants to drive oil to the seafloor. That oil plumes did form nea r the seafloor was an unintended


37 consequence, not a purpose, of subsea dispersants. NYT also did not provide thorough coverage to indicate the potential environmental benefits of using dispersants. Only three articles (4.5%) linked the function of disper sants to a theoretically decreased threat to marine life and shore habitats. The first such article was also one of the few to differentiate between the purposes and negative consequences of dispersants. The article addressed both the function of creating dispersant oil drops, and the side effect that these drops can have linked dispersant functions to marine effects more often for more balanced and accurate coverage. The e arly inaccurate statements about dispersant functions indicate poor journalism. The omissions of dispersant functions, and the failure to relate the chemicals to reduced oil damage, additionally suggest NYT constructed a biased narrative. 3.3.3. Applied Volumes Coverage of the volume of dispersant used revealed many flaws. NYT published the final tally very late and failed to convey scientists' concerns about the volume used. Additionally, NYT was late to reveal the EPA approved exemptions to both the cessation of surface use (ordered in May 2010) and the limit on subsea use. In fact, not until August 1, 2010 (Wald) did NYT cover the EPA's order for BP to stop surface use, in the same article revealing the EPA approved exemptions. Through NYT, the publi c was thus unaware of scientists' concerns regarding volume and was misled about the daily volume


38 of subsea dispersants applied; the public was also unaware until August both about the EPA's directive to cease surface use, and the EPA's exemptions to their own directives. Starting May 6, 2010 (Rosenthal), the amount of dispersants used was portrayed in a negative way. NYT sources repeatedly referred to the unprecedented volume used and the unknown effects of the large amount of dispersant applied in the G ulf. Often, the sources to voice such negative views were EPA officials, though even a Nalco representative once stated his alarm at the amount of dispersant BP used (Rosenthal 5/06/2010). Independent scientists were rarely sourced for comment regarding di spersant volumes. Rather, the EPA and Coast Guard officials were most heavily sourced. Thus, though scientists were concerned about the high volume of dispersants applied to the oil (National Commission 2011b; Shaw 2010), the sources NYT used do not strong ly reflect scientists' concerns. Throughout May and June 2010, NYT frequently provided updates to the total volume of dispersant used; rare updates were provided for other months of coverage. However, NYT generally provided updates without differentiatin g between subsea or surface use. When providing updates, NYT published the volume used to date, rather than the daily amount used. Such a format makes sense, yet is the reason the public was late to know about the EPA's exemptions to the subsea limit. Perh aps BP, the EPA, and the Coast Guard denied NYT information about the exemptions; evidence to support this view is that Representative Edward Markey was the one to uncover the exemptions, and NYT then covered Markey's discovery (Wald 8/01/2010). However, t hat Markey made the discovery first also indicates a lack of rigorous investigation on the part of NYT


39 journalists. NYT published the EPA's subsea limits (Rosenthal 5/25/2010), thus knew about the regulation, and so could have investigated as Markey did. A dditionally, NYT did not publish the mandated cessation of surface use until Markey's discovery, again suggesting a lack of investigation on NYT's part. Had NYT investigated dispersant regulations and daily volumes, the public would have known earlier abou t the mandate to stop surface use, the limit on subsea use, and that the EPA allowed BP to override both regulations. Thus, NYT coverage misled the public about the volume and application of dispersants. Likewise, NYT reported the total volume of applied d ispersants five months after the figure was announced in a government report (Kaufman 4/12/2011). Considering the concern about the dispersant volume BP poured into the Gulf, NYT's late coverage of the total volume demonstrates poor journalism. Overall, NYT demonstrated poor coverage and investigation of dispersant volumes and regulations, despite scientists' concern that BP was overdosing the Gulf with dispersants. 3.3.4. Application Methods The general methods of dispersant application were rarely mentioned; the specifics, even less so. Regarding subsea use, NYT overlooked the opportunity to report details on this unique and newsworthy dispersant approach. Before subsea use began, NYT reported dispersants were sprayed on the surface, rarely descr ibing how : by planes. However, the biggest flaw is in NYT's coverage of subsea use, a previously unprecedented method. Most articles simply stated that BP


40 how BP conducted th the dispersants on the wellhead (Krauss & Saulny 5/11/2010). Even this was not the most detailed explanation NYT could have given of an historical oil response method. The overall l ack of details may be attributed to NYT appealing to a general audience; detailed coverage of scientific methods are usually reserved for publications appealing to a scientific audience (Dean 2009; Stocking 2011). 3.3.5. Imagery The established article s generally used negative imagery to describe dispersants and Corexit in particular. Negative imagery was often linked to the potential dispersant toxicity for humans and the Gulf ecosystem. However, a notable shift occurs in describing BP's use of subsea dispersants: The subsea method was first characterized imagery changed to fear of the unknown impacts. The Corexit dispersants were also initially characterized positive ly; the negative portrayals began after NYT revealed the secrecy of the Corexit ingredients. These imagery shifts coincide with articles using independent scientists and environmental groups as sources, rather than BP, EPA and Coast Guard officials. Overal l, NYT referenced a variety of sources for imagery, demonstrating balanced coverage; however, most imagery came from the journalists, without reference to a source. Additionally, NYT rarely provided details about their scientist sources. Thus, NYT did not adequately demonstrate the reliability of such


4 1 sources' opinions, although NYT did cover many of the scientists' concerns. Most early articles portray dispersants using battle imagery: words such as the chemicals both subsea and on the surface. Such imagery portrayed dispersants as weapons against the enemy of oil. The Coast Guard was the first source to employ battle or proactive imagery in describing the use of disp ersants. Often, the sources relaying positive imagery were government, BP, or Nalco officials. More commonly, however, the journalists rather than a source provided imagery, suggesting bias. Journalists first portrayed dispersants with positive descriptors then changed to consistent negative imagery. Regarding Corexit, the Nalco officials NYT sourced always defended the products, while the EPA switched their view first discrediting Corexit, but by June 2010, defending the products. By June 2010, the Coast Guard, BP, EPA, and Nalco officials voiced only positive views of Corexit. The first article to adequately scrutinize dispersants (Rosenthal 5/06/2010) was followed by articles consistently portraying dispersants with more negative than positive imagery. This article was the first to cover the secrecy of the Corexit ingredients, albeit late; the ingredients had been secret for over two decades. The article referred to 5/06/2010). Rosenthal's statement is accurate dispersants are toxins, though their toxicity depends on the dispersant in question. Additionally, scientific sources commonly described dispersants and Corexit negatively; however, NYT generally referred to th ese


42 dispersant research. Many articles also made broad statements about scientists views on dispersants. The latter is problematic, as broad statements falsely imply consensus among the scientific community. Overall, the imagery of dispersants quickly switched from positive and proactive to negative and as causing anxiety and fear; t he articles provide more negative than positive imagery of dispersants, and of Corexit and subsea dispersants in particular. NYT used a variety of sources in relating dispersant imagery, but failed to specify their scientist sources and thus, failed to ind icate the authority of these sources to speak about dispersants. 3.3.6. Summary: Characterization In conclusion, NYT inadequately characterized dispersants with regard to the product names, functions, and volumes and methods employed. Conversely, NYT's p ortrayal of dispersant imagery was more complete and balanced, both in the views presented and in the sources NYT used. The lack of coverage for dispersant volumes, methods, and functions, however, indicates a poor representation of the scientific communit y's concerns. In generally withholding the product names, NYT also failed to provide basic journalistic details of a controversial topic. Additionally, a complete description of dispersant functions would have educated the public about the benefits and inh erent risks of dispersant treated oil. Detailing dispersant functions would also have emphasized that dispersants do not neutralize oil dangers, but rather shift the oil and its


43 damages to a different part of the marine ecosystem. Yet NYT's dispersant char scientists (Jackson Press Conference 2010). Similarly, for imagery, NYT should have explained dispersants with regard to the oil, to emphasize that despite dispersant uncertain ties and potential threats, they were used to reduce oil damage, which was considered worse than the damage dispersants could cause. Thus, the characterization not only lacks basic details, but is also unbalanced, bordering on biased regarding what informa tion NYT covered. For characterization overall, NYT did not emphasize many concerns of the scientific community, nor did they adequately explain the science and gaps of knowledge about dispersants. 3.4 Dispersant Effectiveness In reporting the effective ness of the Corexit dispersants for DWH, NYT covered two angles: the dispersants' ability to break up and transport LSC oil, and to enhance natural oil biodegradation. Regarding the former angle, NYT relied on biased sources and did not adhere to a standar d of science journalism: publishing independent scientists' opinions of other scientists' work (Dean 2009). For both angles, NYT largely presented a one sided, positive view and failed to convey that more research is needed to evaluate effectiveness for th e subsea applications. In fact, NYT did not source independent scientists for either angle. The theories and concerns of the scientific community were not represented. NYT's coverage was thus incomplete, misleading and unbalanced. The dispersants were un doubtedly effective at moving oil below the surface, and


44 in the case of subsea applications, at preventing even more oil from rising (NOAA 2010). However, NYT did not source independent scientists about effectiveness; nor did NYT demonstrate the lack of ce rtainty regarding how effective dispersants were, particularly subsea. Rather, NYT voiced mainly positive views. NYT initially sourced BP officials about the Corexit products' efficiency. Predictably, BP always stated that Corexit was effective. Primarily, though, NYT used EPA and Coast Guard officials as sources. Like BP, these officials consistently stated that the dispersants were effective at both breaking up LSC oil, and either trapping or moving the oil underwater. However, BP, the EPA and the Coast G uard are biased sources. BP chose the Corexit products and defended them from the outset of the oil response. Meanwhile, the EPA and Coast Guard allowed BP to use the controversial Corexit products and to apply them subsea. Thus, these sources would want t o portray the dispersants as effective, because each group played a role in the continued Corexit applications. Additionally, BP and the EPA collected data on the dispersants' effectiveness. NYT represented both groups' subjective views on their own data, but did not publish the views of independent scientists. Therefore, the public did not know what other scientists thought of BP's and the EPA's data. In the scientific community, there were more theories than answers about effectiveness, particularly regar ding subsea use. Even today, no study has conclusively evaluated whether the Corexit dispersants were the best choice for the DWH spill. Likewise, the efficiency of subsea verse surface applications has yet to be determined. For instance, the National Comm ission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (National Commission 2011b) and the Government Accountability Office produced a report


45 concluding further research into DWH dispersant effectiveness is required (GAO 2012). NYT's coverage, how ever, failed to impress upon its readers the need for more research, as NYT relied on biased sources. The articles rarely presented skeptical views of the dispersants' effectiveness. When relating a skeptical view, NYT mainly sourced Louisiana residents a nd fishermen. Their views are valuable, as residents saw surface slicks daily and could comment on changes in the size of the slicks. However, such sources do not give a scientists' perspective on what was unfolding under the Gulf surface. Residents gave t heir opinions, rather than comments based on measurements. Only one article (1.5%) featured a (Robertson & Rosenthal 5/21/2010). A Canadian government environmental official said meant to work on weathered oil (Robertson & Rosenthal 5/21/2010). This viewpoint is theoretically correct but was stated only once, and inadequately explained As with section 3.3.2, NYT did not elucidate the weathering processes of oil, nor how weathering could affect dispersant oil interactions. For the biodegradation angle of dispersant effectiveness, NYT published only two articles (3.0%). Both articles c onveyed that dispersants were undoubtedly enhancing biodegradation (Marsh 6/06/2010; Broad 8/05/2010). However, the scientific community lacked research in this area, and thus NYT wrongly conveyed to the public that the enhanced biodegradation was an uncon tested fact. Neither article mentioned that while theoretically, dispersants should enhance biodegradation, scientists were concerned that


46 continued dispersant use could impede the process; the oil consuming microbes could be harmed either directly by the dispersants, or through oxygen depletion resulting from biodegradation (National Commission 2011b). Thus, the few times NYT covered this angle, they presented incomplete coverage. Overall, NYT's coverage of effectiveness reflects the biases of the sources represented, and lacks input from independent scientists. In this area of coverage, NYT again failed to demonstrate the uncertainties surrounding Corexit use, and subsea dispersant use in general. The theories regarding surface dispersant use on weathered oil were poorly covered. NYT completely failed to represent concerns that the dispersants themselves, or hypoxia, might hinder oil biodegradation. Thus, NYT coverage is misleading, creating the impression that the dispersants were completely effective. In summary, NYT presented a largely optimistic and non scientific view of effectiveness. 3.5 Negative Dispersant Consequences Prior research has revealed that dispersants, particularly when deployed subsea, may lead to the formation of plumes. Other nega tive consequences of dispersant use include the persistence of the chemicals in the marine environment, and potential oxygen depletion resulting from enhanced biodegradation of dispersant created oil droplets. Therefore, I analyzed how well NYT linked the use of dispersants to plume formation, oxygen depletion and lastly, environmental persistence. In many cases, NYT linked these consequences to negative marine effects (see 3.6).


47 NYT coverage strongly linked dispersants, especially subsea applications, to the formation of subsea plumes. Journalists sourced many independent scientists about this consequence. Although independent scientists were also frequently sourced in relating biodegradation to oxygen depletion, NYT did not adequately link dispersants to these phenomena. Therefore, the articles insufficiently link dispersants to oxygen depletion. Finally, coverage of dispersant persistence was minimal. On this topic, journalists often stated contested opinions as facts, without supporting evidence or refe rence to a source. Overall, NYT demonstrated well the links between dispersants and subsea plumes. However, coverage of the remaining dispersant consequences lacked details and, for persistence, evidence to support debated views. 3.5.1. Plumes NYT cove rage strongly reflected the popular scientific opinion that dispersants were directly responsible for the subsea plumes (Achenbach 2010; GAO 2012; National Commission 2011b). In NYT coverage, independent scientists were the most common sources to link di spersants and plumes. One article (1.5%) linked general dispersant use to the formation of plumes, without specifying the contributions of surface verse subsea dispersants (Rosenthal 5/06/2010). However, most coverage directly identified subsea dispersant use as the cause of the subsea plumes (ex. Gillis 5/16/2010; Dewan 5/17/2010; Broad 6/22/2010). An early article (Gillis 5/16/2010) reported on independent research conducted by scientists aboard the Pelican research vessel. The scientists had discovered


48 v ast subsea plumes, and stated subsea dispersants likely caused the deep formations. Other articles reported the subsea plumes without discussing the role of dispersants (Kaufman 6/18/2010; Gillis & Robertson 7/28/2010; Krauss & Robertson 7/31/2010). In these articles, the sources were either Coast Guard officials or government scientists; both sources acknowledged the existence of the subsea plumes, but did not suggest a cause. Outside of NYT coverage, government officials and BP scientists often argued that turbulence produced the subsea plumes (NOAA 2010). In contrast, independent scientists focused on the role of subsea dispersants. While turbulence from the wellhead may have contributed to the subsea oil plumes a fact not mentioned in NYT coverage the relative contributions of dispersants and turbulence in creating the plumes is contested (National Commission 2011b). NYT thus accurately portrayed scientists' concerns that subsea dispersants created the subsea plumes, rather than solely covering the v iews of government and BP affiliates on the cause of the plumes. 3.5.2. Oxygen Depletion From Biodegradation NYT rarely linked dispersants directly to oxygen depletion, despite sourcing many independent scientists. Additionally, no article explained th at dispersant related hypoxia could hinder further oil biodegradation. Dispersants create smaller oil droplets, so that oil ingesting microbes theoretically have more access to the oil and thus can degrade these droplets faster than untreated oil. Yet th e biodegradation process consumes oxygen from the surrounding environment,


49 which may cause local hypoxia. NYT primarily sourced independent scientists when relating biodegradation to oxygen depletion. The risk of oxygen depletion was consistently linked to biodegradation of the subsea plumes, though usually without reference to the role of dispersants (ex. Gillis & Robertson 7/28/2010; Broad 8/05/2010; Dewan & Kaufman 9/14/2010). When dispersants were directly linked to biodegradation, and in turn, oxygen d epletion (4.5%), the possibility that hypoxia hindered further biodegradation was not covered (Rudolf 6/02/2010; Broad 6/22/2010; Wald 8/01/2010). Overall, while the link between potentially enhanced biodegradation and a resulting oxygen depletion was ver y clear in NYT coverage, the role of dispersants in this relationship was not well covered. 3.5.3. Dispersant Persistence Dispersant persistence was of concern to the scientific community, particularly regarding subsea applications (GAO 2012; Kujawinsk i et al. 2011; National Commission 2011b). However, only three articles (4.5%) covered the potential persistence of dispersants in the marine environment. The minimal coverage NYT provided did not represent the concerns of the scientific community. As demo nstrated from earlier research (NRC 1989, 2005) the fate of dispersants in the deep sea has not been well studied. Yet journalists reported controversial views as scientific fact. Although NYT covered an independent study on dispersant persistence, the cov erage portrayed the scientists' results both incompletely and inaccurately. NYT also failed to highlight the groundbreaking (and newsworthy) aspect of the study.


50 Two of the articles (67% or 3.0% of total set) created the false impression that the dispers ants used in the gulf surface and subsea would degrade quickly. Significantly, neither article referenced a source when conveying the supposed fact. In reality, dispersant persistence remains a question of scientific debate. The first mention of persistenc e (Rosenthal 5/06/2010) was actually about the persistence of oil plumes (which were linked to dispersants). In this article, the author stated that dispersant oil plumes dilute quickly, and did not source the statement. The other article (Kaufman & Rosent hal 5/28/2010) specifically addressed dispersant persistence; the authors stated dispersants dilute quickly, without sourcing the information. Both articles failed to provide evidence for the contested views they presented. Additionally, both articles fail ed to convey that more research is required to answer questions regarding DWH dispersant persistence. NYT did cover an independent scientific study about the persistence of subsea dispersants, but poorly (Kaufman 4/12/2011). In this study, a team of inde pendent researchers (Kujawinski et al. 2011) found that one major component of Corexit 9500 persisted in deep Gulf waters up through September 2010, the month of the group's last sampling. Yet the article about the study contained many flaws. One, the NYT article came out more than two months after the study was published online on January 26, 2011, where it was immediately accessible. For instance, one science news source covered the study the day it was published online (Science Daily 1/26/2011). Secondly, the article was not devoted to covering this breakthrough research. Rather, the research was mentioned toward the end of the article, though it appeared in a subheading titled


51 udy lacked considerable details and relayed inaccurate impressions of the researchers' conclusions. The article implied that the researchers found all Corexit 9500 components rather than one ingredient present in the deep Gulf; coverage additionally implie d that the ingredients were still present at the time of the news article, in April 2011: Elizabeth Kujawinsi, an associate scientist in chemistry at Woods Hole, was able to track dispersants using highly sensitive tests. Dr Kujawinski found that whi le they have become diluted, they are 'not entirely biodegraded or decomposed.' In other words, she said, they remain the the gulf, but in amounts that the government does not In fact, the researchers' last sa mple was in September 2010 and they collected no data after that month (Kujawinski et al. 2011). Additionally, the researchers measured concentrations of just one, though a major, component of Corexit 9500: dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DOSS). Although th e research paper stated the presumption that other Corexit ingredients also persisted, the scientists did not track other ingredients. The researchers detected DOSS up to 64 days after dispersant application ceased (Kujawinski et al. 2011). However, the NY T article omitted this detail, and instead conveyed the message that the scientists traced the ingredient through April 2011 (Kaufman 4/12/2011). The NYT article also omitted an important finding: while DOSS is an


52 ingredient in both Corexit 9500 and Corexi t 9527, the researchers only detected concentrations of this ingredient subsea (Kujawinski et al. 2011). While Corexit 9527 was only used on the surface, Corexit 9500 was used on the surface and subsea. Yet the researchers only found DOSS in the subsea sam ples, indicating that the subsea injection of the dispersant was responsible for the DOSS persistence. The study thus sheds light on subsea verse surface dispersant use, but NYT failed to cover that important aspect. According to the Science Daily article: reviewed research to be published on the dispersant applied to the Gulf spill and the first data in general on deep application of a (Science Daily 1/26/2011). Such a proclamation was not made in the NTY article, and so NYT also failed to cover Overall, dispersant persistence received little attention in NYT. The majority of coverage (67%) stated as facts what were really uncertainties (that dispersants and dispersant created plumes dilute quickly) and failed to source such statements. While Kujawinski's study was the first to analyze the persistence of a DWH dispersant ingredient, NYT's coverage of the study was abysmal. NYT inadequately reported the persistence concerns of the scientific community.


53 3.5.4. Summary: Negative Consequences In summary of dispersant consequences, NYT accurately voiced the popular scientific opinion that subsea dispersa nts caused the subsea plumes. NYT covered the link between dispersants and plumes well, despite the need for more studies specific to the DWH spill. Thus, NYT handled an unfolding event appropriately with regard to independent scientific opinion and availa ble research. In relating the link between dispersants, biodegradation and oxygen depletion, NYT did not fare as well. NYT sourced many independent scientists in reporting that increased biodegradation could lead to oxygen depletion. However, coverage ge nerally failed to identify the role of dispersants. Coverage of dispersant persistence was both sparse and poorly sourced. The one article to reference a science study inaccurately portrayed the researchers' conclusions. Unlike coverage linking subsea di spersants and subsea plumes, NYT's coverage of oxygen depletion and marine persistence failed to utilize prior research to provide insight for the unique DWH spill. 3.6 Marine Toxicity At the time of the DWH oil response, and even today, there were li ttle to no studies available to address marine toxicity and effects for the dispersants used. Despite this, NYT covered the topic well. NYT used numerous independent scientists as sources. Also, coverage related that while the dispersants' toxicity to spec ific species remain largely unknown, dispersants were suspected to cause harm to aquatic organisms and the


54 marine environment. However, NYT rarely compared dispersant and oil toxicities. Such comparisons would have provided more insight into the benefits a nd risks of dispersant use. Additionally, NYT coverage demonstrates links between negative dispersant consequences and marine toxicity. Although dispersants were rarely linked to oxygen depletion (3.5.2), dispersant related hypoxia was often linked to ma rine toxicity. NYT also adequately linked subsea dispersant oil plumes to negative marine effects. The relationship between dispersant persistence and marine harm, however, was represented with only one example. Similarly, NYT linked dispersant volume an d functions to marine toxicity. However, coverage demonstrates inadequate links between function and marine toxicity. Conversely, NYT often linked the unprecedented volume of dispersants used to negative marine effects. 3.6.1. General Dispersant Toxicity Before early June 2010, the EPA guarded the Corexit ingredients. Even after June, the EPA refused to disclose the two products' formulations, as Nalco claimed such information confidential. Additionally, even today, few studies are available specific to the use of the two Corexit dispersants for the DWH oil spill. With little known about Corexit in particular, NYT often covered possible marine threats from dispersants in general, rather than solely from Corexit. In some cases, NYT referred to prior dispe rsant research to demonstrate general dispersant threats. Relating marine threats from


55 dispersants in general was an effective strategy to portray scientists' concerns regarding the toxicity of the Corexit dispersants. A problem with such a strategy, howev er, is that different dispersants have different ingredients and formulations. Therefore, the various chemicals among dispersant products behave differently under varying environmental conditions, and thus may have different marine effects. Nevertheless, N YT covered marine toxicity of dispersants in an appropriate manner, despite a lack of available Corexit research. Some articles sourced prior dispersant research to indicate potential threats of the chemical products. For instance, an early NYT article c ited a 2005 National Academy of Science study that suggested dispersants kill fish eggs (Severson 5/07/10), though the reference to the study was vague. Another article referencing a pre DWH study states l more toxic for some animals, nt is made about dispersants in the Corexit dispersants are among those that can cause hemorrhaging. Other articles sourced scientists to portray the negative marine effects that any dispersant may cause. For example, independent scientists said that the effects of dispersants on organisms specially adapted to the cold, dark environ ment of the deep Gulf such as deep sea tube worms are unknown, but likely negative (Broad


56 5/30/2010). Another article quotes an NOAA regional director in stating that dispersants throughout NYT's coverage (ex. Rosenthal 5/06/2010; Marsh 6/06/2010; Kaufman 4/12/2011) blatantly stated that dispersants in general are toxic, though these statements were vaguely sourced. Overall, NYT often voiced scientists concerns regarding dispersa nts in general, in order to provide insight to the potential marine threats the Corexit products posed. The strategy was effective, and demonstrates that on this topic, NYT journalists reviewed prior dispersant research. 3.6.2. The Corexit Dispersants More than two weeks after BP began using the dispersants, NYT revealed the secrecy of the Corexit products' ingredients (Rosenthal 5/08/2010). NYT accurately reported that such secrecy hindered scientists' ability to assess the potential marine threat of t hese chemicals (Rosenthal 5/08/2010). Yet despite the uncertainty surrounding the products, NYT often covered the potential for the Corexit dispersants to cause negative marine effects. Coverage detailed specific organisms that scientists believed the disp ersants threatened. The articles also reinforced the need for more research, and concerns about long term marine effects. NYT's sources for the topic were varied, including independent and government scientists, Gulf Coast residents and fishermen, Nalco, a nd BP. However, details of the scientists NYT sourced were often not provided; instead, NYT referred vaguely to groups as scientists, experts, or critics, without


57 providing the source's credentials. The largest flaw is that NYT failed to maintain strong co verage after 2010, despite more available research regarding the marine effects and toxicity of the DWH dispersants. Overall, NYT covered the topic in depth and often, but only during 2010. An early angle NYT covered was the unreliability of dispersant t oxicity tests. NYT revealed that different countries each had multiple methods for assessing dispersant toxicity, and thus no one theory on Corexit toxicity prevailed (Rosenthal 5/22/2010; Kaufman & Rosenthal 5/23/2010). For instance, NYT often disclosed t hat Britain removed Corexit products from their own Product Schedule, as their tests found the products to be harmful to sea life on rocky shores (ex. Rosenthal 5/08/2010 and 5/22/2010; Kaufman & Rosenthal 5/23/2010; NYT 6/26/2010). Importantly, NYT added that for DWH, the products were used offshore, and therefore the British tests were not applicable to this oil response (Rosenthal 5/08/2010). Coverage also revealed that while nded amounts, Corexit use for DWH exceeded Nalco's recommendations (Rosenthal 5/08/2010). Another way in which NYT demonstrated uncertainty of the dispersants' toxicity was through covering the changing views of the EPA. Before the EPA toxicity tests, th e conversely, BP officials consistently defended the use of these products (ex. Robertson & Rosenthal 5/21/2010; NYT 5/23/2010; Rosenthal 5/25/2010). After the EPA toxic ity tests, however, the EPA conceded that Corexit 9500 was comparable to the marine toxicity of


58 the available alternative dispersants (NYT 7/01/2010). However, NYT omitted the EPA's responsibility for the U.S. Product Schedule. Thus, NYT did not reveal tha t the EPA's uncertainty regarding Corexit toxicity was the EPA's fault. Nevertheless, covering the EPA's changing stance on Corexit further demonstrates the unreliability of the existent dispersant tests, and the resultant confusion of Corexit marine toxic ity. The majority of articles correctly stated that, at the time, the marine toxicity of the Corexit products was uncertain. Nonetheless, NYT highlighted concerns of scientists who feared that these dispersants would have ill effects in various marine o rganisms. Coverage also related worries over the possible long term marine effects. Many articles referred to scientists testing for the dispersants' presence in Gulf organisms that died during the oil spill. The articles demonstrate that scientists suspec ted the products as the cause of death for many deep sea and surface dwelling organisms, including whales, manatees, turtles, shrimp, corals, fish, and crabs (ex. Rudolf 6/02/2010; Kaufman 6/18/2010; Leland 6/21/2010; Dewan 7/15/2010). The articles also pr ovided examples of independent scientists who began studying Corexit toxicity to specific organisms. Thus, the uncertainty of marine toxicity was well balanced with the idea that these dispersants were suspects in the deaths of numerous marine organisms. T hrough both scientific and non scientific sources, NYT voiced the need for further study regarding the Corexit products' marine toxicity. In covering this angle, NYT's sources were diverse, portraying the wide ranging concern about negative marine effects both acute and long term. NYT sourced many independent scientists, Gulf Coast residents, and Louisiana fishing industry officials.


59 NYT continued to source diverse groups throughout 2010. A flaw with sources, however, is that often, NYT clumped scientists into one group, as one source, without providing details as to the scientists' expertise. Similarly, NYT was vague in defining who the critics they sourced were whether or not these sources had the credentials to comment on dispersant toxicity. Overall, h owever, NYT did source many scientists regarding toxicity. In conclusion, NYT covered well the concerns that the Corexit dispersants were toxic for many species. The articles also stressed the need for more research. NYT achieved good coverage by relating scientists' suspicions that the dispersants caused deaths for diverse Gulf inhabiting organisms. Although NYT's sources were sometimes vague, NYT sourced a variety of groups. Whether these sources were scientists, or Louisiana residents, they largely voic ed the same opinion: the Corexit products must have negative marine effects. After 2010, NYT reduced dispersant coverage overall. Thus, marine toxicity of the dispersants was also rarely covered after 2010, despite an increase in pertinent research. 3.6. 3. Comparing Dispersant and Oil Toxicities NYT coverage compared the toxicity of dispersants and the toxicity of oil, though not often. Given the limited science data on the DWH oil spill and dispersants, NYT appropriately made general comparisons, rathe r than specifically comparing the Corexit products and LSC oil. Most of the sources NYT quoted referred to dispersants' toxicity as being comparable to, or greater than, oil toxicity. Fewer sources presented the view that


60 oil is more toxic than dispersants Comparisons between the toxicity of oil and subsea dispersants were very rare. The latter two comparisons were generally vaguely sourced, or else presented by the author rather than a credible source. Unlike section 3.3.2, NYT demonstrated that regarding marine toxicity, the use of dispersants represents an environmental tradeoff (Achenbach 2011; Jackson Press Conference 2010; National Commission 2011b). Many NYT sources voiced the opinion that dispersants are at least comparable in toxicity to oil, if not more toxic. For instance, an independent marine scientist said that 4/27/2010). A later article (Krauss 6/12/2010) cited a Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries official in stating that dispersants may be more toxic to marine life than oil. A small amount of coverage comparing dispersant and oil toxicities provided the view that dispersants were preventing a greater evil the oil and fragile marsh (Broder & Ze ller Jr. 5/04/2010). Such viewpoints were generally provided by the author, vaguely sourced response officials, or the EPA, while almost always acknowledging that the use of dispersants was a trade off. In other words, for this section, sources often ackno wledged that while dispersants could reduce damages by potentially more harmful oil, the chemicals themselves have toxic marine effects. In this respect, NYT adequately portrayed the environmental trade offs of dispersant use, and the reason the choice to use


61 dispersants is a difficult decision Overall, NYT did not often compare the toxicities of oil and dispersants. Such comparisons may have helped the public understand the potential benefits and risks of treated and untreated oil. However, NYT did cove r the environmental tradeoffs of using dispersants, unlike section 3.3.2. The lack of specific comparisons between LSC and Corexit dispersants, however, is appropriate. Likewise, that NYT rarely compared the toxicities of oil and subsea dispersants is also appropriate, given limited data. 3.6.4. Linking Consequences to Marine Effects Here, I analyze how well NYT linked negative dispersant consequences to marine effects and toxicity. 1. Plumes The formation of subsea dispersant oil plumes as a conseq uence of subsea dispersant use was often linked to marine toxicity. Despite this link in NYT coverage, the concern among scientists that dispersants may be harmful to the oil consuming microbe community was not covered. However, NYT accurately portrayed sc ientists' concerns that the subsea plumes, a mix of oil and dispersants, might be more harmful to marine organisms than the oil. Unfortunately, it has yet to be concluded whether the plumes were solely a result of the dispersants, as some scientists believ e (Shaw 2010; Rosenthal 5/06/2010; Gillis 5/16/2010). Regarding the plumes, NYT voiced toxicity concerns for organisms inhabiting the deep sea as well as shallower Gulf waters. Usually, independent as well as government


62 scientists voiced such concerns. F or instance, a regional NOAA official stated that he 6/02/2010). Other independent scientists raised concerns about the plumes' toxicity to oysters (Rosenthal 5/06/20 worms (Broad 5/30/2010). Scientists also stated that the mix of oil and dispersant 010). The articles covered scientists' concerns regarding the plumes' toxicity to marine mammals such as whales (Kaufman 6/18/2010) and manatees (Leland 6/21/2010). Finally, NYT represented a scientist's view that the plumes are toxic to a unique community of deep sea clams, mussels, and eels (Broad 6/22/2010) and marine life in general. Thus, NYT communicated well scientists' concerns regarding the marine toxicity of the dispersant oil plumes for a diverse assortment of organisms. 2. Oxygen Depletion NYT often portrayed concerns of the marine effects of oxygen depletion, a result of enhanced oil biodegradation. Again, however, NYT rarely reported that dispersants accelerate oil biodegradation, thus leading to the potential oxygen depletion. Yet when NYT did link dispersants to both phenomena, oxygen depletion was adequately related to negative marine effects. NYT sourced many independent scientists to relate dispersant induced oxygen depletion to deleterious marine effects. One article (Wald 8/01/20 10 ) directly links the function of dispersants to oxygen


63 depletion and negative marine effects: the bacteria can use up all the oxygen in the water and kill the fish and other The above was not sourced. However, the quote represents one of the few articles to demonstrate that oxygen depletion occurs as a result of a dispersant function: enhancing oil biodegradability. Another article stat ed that if dispersant (Rudolf 6/02/2010 ). Additionally, an independent scientist remarked that oxygen directly link dispersants, oxygen depletion and marine effects, an independent scientist deep sea Gulf (Broad 6/22/2010 ). Overall, oxygen depletion as a result from dispersant enhanced oil biodegradation was strongly linked to deleterious marine effects. 3. Marine Persistence NYT coverage for this angle was very poor. Only one article (1.5%) linked t he persistence of dispersants in the Gulf to marine toxicity. Additionally, the link was


64 specific only to the subsea persistence of dispersants. In this article (Kaufman 4/12/2011 ), independent scientist Elizabeth Kujawinski, who led research on the persis tence of DOSS in Gulf waters, stated: but over a long period of time. We don't know about how this affects living creatures in the deep water that can't move, like coral Thus, Kujawinski remarked that deepwater sessile organisms are most at risk from the persistence of Corexit 9500 as used subsea. No article conveyed that the persistence of dispersants in shallower Gulf waters could also have neg ative effects. 4. Summary: Linking Consequences to Marine Toxicity In conclusion, NYT articles linking dispersants to plumes and to oxygen depletion often related both consequences to marine toxicity. Dispersant marine persistence was also of scientif ic concern (Kujawinski et al. 2011; National Commission 2011b; Shaw 2010). However, NYT did not adequately portray that dispersant persistence in the Gulf waters could lead to negative long term effects. 3.6.5. Linking Function and Volume to Marine Toxic ity 1. Function Many dispersant functions led to negative marine effects. For example, one


65 dispersant function is to hasten oil biodegradation, thus reducing the volume of oil present. However, an unintended consequence of accelerated biodegradation is oxygen depletion. NYT coverage linked only one of the dispersants' functions to marine toxicity. NYT therefore failed to differentiate between the many inherent consequences of dispersant use, and the reasons for using dispersants. Overall, four articles (6.0%) linked the same dispersant function to marine toxicity ( Rosenthal 5/06/2010; Severson 5/07/2010; Kaufman 6/18/2010; Wald 8/01/2010). All four articles demonstrate that the oil droplets dispersants create threaten marine organisms. For instance, in the article citing a 2005 National Academy of Science dispersant functions and cons equences. Thus, NYT insufficiently linked the functions of dispersants to marine toxicity. NYT should have demonstrated how each negative consequence resulted from a dispersant function. Had coverage presented stronger links, NYT would have better convey 2010). 2. Volume The established articles frequently linked the unprecedented volume of dispersants used to marine toxicity. For example, one independent microbiologist stat ed,


66 8/05/2010). However, NYT rarely sourced scientists for this angle of coverage. Nevertheless, the articles adequately demonstrate that the large volume of dispersants applied in the Gulf could lead to negative marine effects. 3. Summary: Linking Function and Volume to Marine Toxicity In conclusion, although the volume of dispersants used was often linked to marine effects, the sources who expressed concerns about t he links were rarely scientists. Thus, NYT coverage does not strongly reflect that scientists, not only government officials, were concerned about the effects of applying so much dispersant. Regardless, NYT sufficiently linked dispersant volume and marine toxicity. In contrast, coverage reflects incomplete and rare links between dispersant functions and negative marine effects. NYT should have consistently linked functions to marine effects in order to better inform public opinion of dispersant use. 3.6.6 Summary: Marine Toxicity In summary, NYT generally provided diverse and detailed coverage of the marine toxicity of dispersants. However, one major flaw exists in NYT coverage: after 2010, NYT's excellent coverage of dispersant marine toxicity ceased, though scientific research for DWH dispersants had only begun. The drop in NYT's dispersant coverage despite an increase in scientific investigations reflects an unfortunate trend of science journalism in daily, general audience newspapers. Nevertheless, d uring 2010, NYT conveyed well the marine toxicity from the Corexit dispersants.


67 Compared to other angles of coverage, marine toxicity was the angle for which NYT was most in tune with the scientific community and produced the best articles. Dispersant m arine toxicity was a complicated subject, as it could be covered by directly reporting the toxicity of either the two Corexit dispersants, or of dispersants in general. Marine toxicity could also be covered by demonstrating the toxic effects of unfortunate dispersant consequences. Additionally, journalists could link the applied dispersant volumes and the dispersant functions to marine toxicity. NYT covered each angle to some degree, though the latter angle was insufficiently covered. Yet NYT's overall cove rage reflects a well rounded communication of the marine toxicity associated with using dispersants to mitigate the DWH oil spill. NYT sourced multiple independent scientists, and balanced the uncertainties of dispersant marine effects with concrete exampl es of scientists' concerns. For example, NYT often reported dispersant toxicity to specific organisms, and covered the potential for dispersants to cause harmful subsea plumes. NYT covered the marine toxicity concerns of subsea dispersant use slightly more than surface use; however, neither application method was neglected in reporting marine toxicity. Likewise, the scientific community was primarily concerned about the unprecedented subsea use of dispersants, while also concerned about the environmental ef fects of using dispersants in general, and in large volumes. Overall, marine toxicity represents NYT's best science journalism as far as covering the DWH dispersants.


68 3.7 Human Health Effects NYT rarely directly covered the potential for dispersan ts to cause adverse health effects in humans. More commonly, the articles indirectly covered toxicity through dispersant imagery (3.3.5). Though dispersants have been used for decades, few studies on dispersant toxicity were available during the height of NYT's coverage, in 2010. However, unlike coverage for marine toxicity, NYT did not portray the deficiency of research as a problem. Additionally, NYT did not reveal that the EPA regulated Product Schedule lacks requirements for assessing dispersant human t oxicity. In fact, no article reported the EPA's responsibility for dispersant approval. The limited coverage of human toxicity focused on issues that could affect the nation at large: anxiety over dispersant uncertainties, and toxicity from ingestion of dispersant contaminated seafood. Unlike most of the nation, oil spill responders and Gulf residents faced direct exposure to the dispersants. Yet NYT presented less coverage of toxicity via direct contact with, or inhalation of, the chemicals. Toxicity thr ough consumption of dispersant contaminated water was also poorly reported. For each angle, NYT rarely sourced independent scientists. Overall, NYT insufficiently represented scientists' concerns regarding the potential for dispersants to negatively affect human health. NYT also failed to address the EPA's responsibility for regulating dispersants, as well as the appalling lack of research regarding human toxicity. 3.7.1. Anxiety NYT rarely covered the potential human toxicity of dispersants. The art icles that


69 covered the topic largely focused on dispersant related anxiety. However, anxiety was reported only once through the lens of a scientist. The articles generally sourced local residents to convey anxieties regarding dispersant applications. On e article (1.5%) covered a study (Goldstein et al. 2011) in which researchers concluded that the oil spill resulted in more mental than physical human harm (Robertson 4/07/2011). A small portion of the article relates the researchers' results regarding the applied dispersants. The journalist reported that, according to the study, the undisclosed Corexit ingredients caused immense anxiety in Gulf Coast residents. The article also conveys the views of Goldstein, the lead author in the study. Goldstein stated that the government is to blame for residents' anxieties, as the secrecy surrounding Corexit led many to believe the ingredients must be harmful. The article relates another reason for anxiety, according to the research: the dispersants created subsea plum es, hiding much of the oil from public view. In the article, Goldstein suggests that residents feared a sudden reappearance of the hidden oil, thus causing anxiety (Robertson 4/07/2011). The brief coverage of Goldstein's study was the only article to provi de scientific input regarding dispersant induced anxiety. 3.7.2. Ingestion of Contaminated Seafood Ingestion of dispersant contaminated seafood was another frequent angle of NYT's human toxicity coverage. NYT provided greater direct coverage of this ang le than for anxiety, though NYT only once sourced an independent scientist on the topic (Severson 7/14/2010). Articles focused on the uncertainty regarding dispersant toxicity to


70 humans via consumption of contaminated seafood. Twice, NYT sourced the Food a nd Drug Administration (FDA), although the FDA's two statements are contradictory. Yet NYT highlighted neither the FDA's change in perspective, nor the reasons for the change. Thus coverage for this angle was sparse and shallow. Two articles (3.0%) portra yed the uncertainty of dispersant caused human toxicity as a reason to discontinue dispersant applications. The earliest coverage of this angle was in a May 25, 2010 article (Rosenthal) that sourced Representative Edward Markey (D Mass), a member of the Ho use Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Markey stated that while little was known about the dispersants' environmental al 5/25/2010). The uncertainty of whether dispersants accumulate in seafood, and thus harm humans, was echoed by a local shrimp industry official (Krauss 6/12/2010). In both cases, sources portrayed the uncertainty as negative. Two articles (3.0%) sourced the FDA about dispersant human toxicity from seafood ingestion. One of these articles (1.5% of total set) also sourced an independent scientist. In NYT coverage, the FDA first stated that the public health risk from DWH dispersants was of little concern ( Severson 7/14/2010), but later gave reason to believe that dispersant contaminated food may harm humans (Dewan 8/17/2010). First, the FDA 14/2010). The article provided no evidence to support the FDA's statements. Despite the FDA's initial statements, a later article revealed that the


71 to the FDA's initial st ance, this later article indicates that the FDA was concerned about the health effects from consuming dispersant contaminated food. The article did not question why such a test was not previously developed, considering prior dispersant use. The only indep endent scientist sourced on this topic countered the FDA's initial 7/14/2010). NYT conveyed that this quote represents other scientists who also disagreed with the FD A's claims. However, NYT did not indicate which of the two competing views was most prominent among the scientific community. Overall, NYT's coverage of this human toxicity angle was similar to their coverage of the anxiety angle. Both were prominent them es in relating human toxicity, and both insufficiently sourced independent scientists. For seafood ingestion in particular, NYT failed to criticize the historical lack of research regarding dispersant human toxicity. 3.7.3. Drinking Dispersant Contaminat ed Water Only one article (1.5%) considered human toxicity through drinking contaminated water. In the article, the FDA dismissed such concerns, and stated their tests showed that only two of 2,500 water samples contained dispersants (Dewan 8/17/2010). No additional details were provided, no independent scientists were quoted for comment, and the subject was never brought up again in NYT coverage. 3.7.4. Direct Contact and Inhalation NYT covered toxicity from contact with, or inhalation of, the chemi cals less than


72 they covered the seafood ingestion and anxiety angles. Additionally, articles for this angle were less direct in coverage. NYT sourced one independent scientist for this topic, and did not provide balanced coverage. Surprisingly, only one ar ticle covered dispersant toxicity to the oil response workers. a Louisiana resident o that she and her young son developed (Dewan 8/03/2010). Also, only one independent scientist was quoted in relating dispersant exposure to public health risks. Based off his study (Goldstei n et al. 2011), the scientist concluded that the once secret major ingredient of the Corexit products is a stool softener and is unlikely to cause harm (Robertson 4/07/2011). The scientist further claimed that the general public had little exposure to the dispersant chemicals. The article failed to mention the oil response work crew a group that faced direct exposure to the chemicals. One article (1.5%) was completely about the concerns of dispersant safety for work crew members (Kaufman & Rosenthal 5/28 /2010). This article was published after several men were hospitalized with symptoms they blamed on the dispersants, including nausea, headaches, skin irritation, and dizziness. Surprisingly, though, this was the only article to mention dispersant safety c oncerns related to work crew members those who had the most direct exposure to the dispersants. In the article, doctors said that the & Rosenthal 5/28/2010). Officials fro m the Coast Guard and the Louisiana Department


73 of Health and Hospitals said the symptoms were due to dehydration and not linked to dispersants. These latter two sources explained that the hospitalized men were working 50 miles away from where the Coast Gua rd reported spraying dispersants that day. The article lacked scientific input regarding whether dispersants could have caused the symptoms of the hospitalized men. Overall, for this angle, only two articles (3.0%) provided concrete examples revealing th at direct dispersant contact may have caused negative human reactions. Neither of these articles sourced scientists. One article (1.5%) did source an independent scientist for the view that the dispersants were unlikely to affect humans. However, the artic les failed to source scientists for both of the views NYT presented. Thus, NYT did not provide balanced coverage for this section. Additionally, NYT inadequately addressed toxicity for the people who had direct contact with the chemicals. 3.7.5. Summary: Human Health Effects In summary of section 3.7, NYT coverage of human toxicity from dispersants was both insufficient and unbalanced. Both the marine and human toxicities of the dispersants were uncertainties during the height of NYT coverage. Nonethele ss, NYT presented the opinions of many scientists regarding dispersant marine toxicity, whereas NYT rarely sourced scientists for human toxicity. Additionally, NYT's failure to address the lack of human toxicity research suggests a bias in coverage. The ar ticles never disclosed that the EPA listed dispersants on the Product Schedule without requiring tests for human toxicity. Finally, the rare coverage of this topic focused on health issues that could affect NYT's


74 national audience, rather than issues only relevant to Gulf Coast residents. In depth coverage of the issues affecting local residents may have provided greater insight into the toxicity of the dispersants, as locals had more dispersant exposure. Overall, human toxicity represents one of the weakes t angles of NYT's science coverage for DWH dispersants. 3.8 Coverage of Scientific Studies NYT rarely sourced independent science studies in their coverage of DWH dispersant use. However, most of these NYT articles were in 2010, before much independen t research began. Additionally, some research that had been done was later gagged, or blocked from public view (Achenbach 2011; Earjustice & Toxipedia 2011). For example, the Pelican subsea plume reports are currently inaccessible. Thus, NYT may not have h ad access to early independent research. Overall, from 2010 through 2012, NYT covered a small portion of the available DWH dispersant research. NYT did not cover, for instance, a study (Spier et al. 2013, e published in 2012) that concluded that the use of subsea dispersants was largely responsible for the volume of hydrocarbons in the subsea plumes; a study (Thibodeaux et al. 2011, e published in 2010) that provided insight into the gaps of knowledge regarding oil and dispersant fate in the marine enviro nment; and a study (Rico Martinez et al. 2013, e published 2012) that found that the mix of Corexit 9500 and LSC oil tested in similar ratios as existed for the DWH spill was 52 times more toxic than LSC alone to one species of marine rotifers (small zoopl ankton that are a food source to many marine


75 organisms). The latter study tested the same rotifer species for which the EPA mandated BP to assess marine toxicity (Coast Guard & EPA 5/10/2010). The EPA required the toxicity test to determine whether subsea dispersant applications would continue (Coast Guard & EPA 5/10/2010). In the study, the authors state that their results suggest BP greatly underestimated the toxicity of the oil dispersant mix to the rotifer, as well as its overall marine toxicity (Rico M artinez et al. 2013). NYT thus largely failed to cover independent studies both during and after 2010. After 2010, NYT covered only two independent studies (see 3.5.3 and 3.7.1), despite more available research on the DWH dispersants. Again, NYT poorly c overed Kujawinski's study (2011) on dispersant marine persistence (Kaufman 4/12/2011). Coverage was misleading regarding the basic conclusions of the study. Though NYT reported on another independent study (Goldstein et al. 2011), that study was only parti ally about dispersants. However, in this case, NYT adequately covered the small part of the study in which the authors discussed dispersants (Robertson 4/07/2011). Following is an analysis of NYT's coverage of the two EPA directed dispersant tests (Hemme r et al. 2011). These tests were first published separately in 2010, but later published together. Both EPA directed tests were covered in briefs, and both were covered within days of the published results. However, coverage of these tests was misleading a nd inadequate. NYT omitted essential details of both tests. 3.8.1. EPA Dispersant Toxicity Tests The first EPA directed test (Hemmer et al. 2011) was covered the day after the


76 study was published online on June 30, 2010 the brief came out July 1, 2010 ( NYT). Overall, the brief creates the misleading impression that the dispersants used for DWH were deemed safe. This brief simply states that a Corexit dispersant, along with others, mix of these dispersants with oil (NYT 7/01/2010). However, th e brief lacked many significant details. NYT did not report many of the flaws in the study (NYT 7/01/2010). The brief did not state that of the DWH dispersants, only Corexit 9500 not Corexit 9527 was tested (Hemmer et al. 2011). The brief did not identif y the other tested dispersants. Nor did the brief state that this test was simply a redo of the Product Schedule tests. NYT also omitted that only acute toxicity was examined. Thus, NYT failed to indicate that chronic and non lethal impacts on the two test ed species were not studied. Importantly, the brief did not report that the tests were not conducted under Gulf simulating conditions. Thus, this data does not give an accurate estimation of the toxicity of Corexit 9500 in the Gulf, especially as used subs ea. NYT also failed to report the benefits of the EPA test, as opposed to the prior Product Schedule tests (NYT 7/01/2010). The brief omitted that, unlike the Product Schedule tests, this round of dispersant testing was performed by one independent labor atory (Hemmer et al. 2011). Therefore, these tests were more consistent, and were not conducted by dispersant manufacturers as they previously were. Finally, the EPA


77 directed tests determined Corexit 9500 to be less toxic than Nalco initially reported for the Product Schedule; yet NYT omitted the difference. The brief thus creates an inaccurate impression of the EPA tests. NYT omitted many more negative than positive details of the tests. 3.8.2. EPA Dispersant LSC Toxicity and Effectiveness Tests The brief on the second round of testing (Hemmer et al. 2011) was published on August 3, 2010 (NYT), while the study was available online as of August 1 again, coverage was timely. For this round of testing, the EPA assessed marine toxicity of the same eight d ispersants as the first tests (Hemmer et al. 2011). However, this time, the EPA tested the toxicity of each dispersant mixed with LSC oil. The tests also examined the effectiveness of each dispersant applied to the oil. In covering the second tests, NYT st (NYT 8/03/2010). The brief also states that generally, mixing dispersants with LSC resulted in a moderate toxicity and was comparable to the toxicity of the oil alone. As with the brief on the first round of testing, this brief again stated that the tests were conducted on shrimp and inland silversides. Yet NYT coverage excluded signi ficant details applicable to both rounds of testing (NYT 8/03/2010). The brief omitted that, as with the first tests, Corexit 9527 was again not tested, that Gulf conditions were again not simulated, and that still only acute toxicity for two species was t ested (Hemmer et al. 2011).


78 The brief also omitted details specific to the dispersant oil tests. NYT failed to reveal that this second round of testing was conducted using only non weathered oil (Hemmer et al. 2011). Yet during DWH, oil emerged from a mi le below the ocean surface; thus, for DWH, the surface use of dispersants was often acting on weathered oil (GAO 2012; National Commission 2011b). In reality, neither round of tests simulated the conditions under which dispersants were applied in the Gulf of Mexico. However, NYT's coverage of these tests creates the inaccurate impression that both Corexit products applied were safe and effective for DWH (NYT 8/03/2010). NYT also omitted the second tests' finding that, for inland silversides, Corexit 9500 mi xed with LSC was more toxic than LSC alone (Hemmer et al. 2011). Additionally, the brief omitted that the EPA reported tests for the inland silversides as inconclusive. Rather, the brief wrongly implies that, for both species, the toxicity of all tested di spersants mixed with LSC was comparable to the toxicity of LSC alone. 3.8.3. Summary: Coverage of Scientific Studies In summary of 3.8, NYT rarely covered independent research specific to DWH dispersant use. In covering such studies, NYT in all but one case gave almost completely inaccurate impressions of the studies, and thus, of the Corexit dispersants used for the DWH oil spill. Coverage generally portrayed the dispersants in a better light than the studies did. Despite the controversy surrounding th e use of the Corexit products in this spill, NYT dedicated inadequate space to covering studies. As a result, the majority of studies NYT reported on were not covered well. NYT sourced many independent


79 scientists when covering marine toxicity, yet failed t o properly cover studies specific to any aspect of the DWH dispersant use. Similarly, NYT's coverage of both EPA directed dispersant tests omitted more significant information than it provided. NYT should have covered these studies with full length artic les to provide more detailed and accurate reports. Yet the briefs wrongly imply that the EPA deemed both Corexit dispersants safe and effective for the DWH oil spill. Better coverage of scientific studies would have provided readers with a clearer unders tanding of the developments in science regarding Corexit use in response to DWH.




81 4.1 Discussion NYT coverage of dispersants used for the DWH oil spill shows a dramatic shift over time. Coverage was more frequent and more in depth during 2010, while the dispersants were being used and several weeks afterward. During this time, few studies were available addressing DWH dispersants. After 2010, NYT greatly reduced coverage; only five releva nt articles (7.5%) were published between 2011 and 2012. Yet following 2010, more scientific research was available to address different facets of the use of dispersants. The reduction in news articles despite greater available research thus suggests that NYT coverage was influenced by the public rather than by the scientific community (refer to 1.2.5). Once the presence of oil on the Gulf surface diminished and dispersant use ceased, dispersants were no longer hot topics (PEJ 2010). For most of the nation, the dispersant issue was over. For scientists, dispersant research was just beginning. Yet the time span of NYT's articles indicates that NYT only covered the dispersants while they remained in the national spotlight. Even during 2010, NYT inadequately covered dispersants, demonstrating poor journalism. Very few articles devoted coverage to dispersants, which automatically suggests NYT did not dedicate enough space for this topic. Significantly, NYT failed to report many basic facts about dispersants, an d thus poorly informed the public about dispersant activities in the Gulf. No article identified Corexit 9527 as one of the dispersants employed for DWH. Correspondingly, no article declared the early cessation of Corexit 9527. Despite the controversy rega rding the use of Corexit products in particular, NYT coverage lacks sufficient identification for even the general product


82 name. The articles also omitted details of the subsea application method, despite the historical nature of such dispersant use. NYT d id not provide consistent updates to the applied volumes, and was months late in revealing the EPA exemptions to their own dispersant limitations for DWH. Additionally, the EPA maintained the authority to alter or stop the use of dispersants for DWH; howev er, NYT articles scrutinize only BP and Nalco for the application of dispersants during this oil spill. Indeed, NYT coverage overall suggests a bias in favor of the EPA. NYT never addressed the Product Schedule, or the EPA's duty to regulate and approve dispersants. The EPA should have been scrutinized for allowing dispersant manufacturers to declare ingredients as CBI. Even after Congress pressured the EPA to release the formulations of both Corexit products, the EPA provided ingredients without specifyi ng the products' formulations. The secrecy surrounding dispersant formulations hindered scientists' ability to investigate marine and human toxicities of the dispersants. Yet throughout coverage, ued use of the products. Again, it appears that NYT coverage was heavily influenced by the public atmosphere; the nation largely viewed BP as the culprit for dispersant problems. While BP played a role in the use of dispersants, the EPA had the ultimate au thority to regulate dispersant use. NYT also failed to report the infrastructure that allows dispersants to be used without an understanding of the chemicals. These details represent basic information that NYT omitted from coverage. Additionally, through out the established articles, NYT largely displayed poor science journalism even during 2010. NYT did provide excellent coverage of the


83 potential marine toxicity from using dispersants in large volumes, and from applying dispersants both on the Gulf surfac e and subsea. Additionally, NYT adequately linked subsea dispersant applications to the formation of subsea plumes. However, overall, NYT coverage failed to explain enough about the science of dispersants for readers to understand why they were being used, or how the oil might behave if left untreated. NYT's coverage of the remaining dispersant consequences was poor, suggesting NYT focused on the immediate rather than the long term consequences. Moreover, NYT provided incomplete details of dispersant functi ons; therefore, NYT did not convey the pros and cons of dispersant use. Regarding dispersant human toxicity, NYT did not emphasize the lack of research as a problem. Outside of marine toxicity, NYT coverage of the science of dispersants presents insufficie nt information. Thus, while NYT covered the issue as an environmental concern, NYT coverage does not provide balanced information about dispersants for readers to make informed opinions on their use. Regarding the assumption that the media influences publi c perceptions of events (1.2.5), NYT's unbalanced, insufficient coverage is a major flaw. Overall, NYT did not explain well the science of dispersants for DWH. Some of NYT's failures in adequately covering the science of dispersants point to larger fla ws of science journalism within general media. The media and the science community have conflicting views regarding the information necessary to communicate to the public (Dean 2009). When covering science stories, general audience national newspapers deci de what is newsworthy based on factors such as the timeliness of the study, and if the study is relevant to a larger audience. Newspapers are also limited in


84 space, so that when they do cover science studies, they write first about the conclusions and then fit in other details as space allows. Scientists, on the other hand, first present evidence to lead to their conclusions. Scientists are also concerned with what gaps in knowledge their research presents but gaps in knowledge are not newsworthy. Journalis ts want to know conclusions, not questions, and to convey those conclusions to the public. As a result, newspapers often present misleading coverage of scientific studies. NYT's coverage of dispersants demonstrates the differences between how the scientifi c community views science, and how the media writes about it for the public to interpret. For instance, general audience newspapers routinely omit the methods of studies. Yet as seen with the EPA toxicity tests, NYT's failure to cover the method details c reated misleading impressions about the EPA results; additionally, NYT thus failed to highlight flaws of the methods. Other scientists would have been interested in the methods of those tests, especially as the use of dispersants was so controversial and c ould affect the future use of the chemicals. However, journalists tend to pay less attention to the nuances and methods of studies than they do to the conclusions (Dean 2009). Moreover, general newspapers typically do not provide a full citation of the st udy in question (Dean 2009). Likewise, NYT usually provided only one of the study author's names; NYT never reported the publication name or date when referencing a study. Limited reference to study citations is commonplace in general audience newspapers; nonetheless, the common practice presents a problem for readers seeking to locate the studies that newspapers report. National newspapers have to keep up with daily events. Even for an


85 environmental disaster such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the newsworthiness of science issues is time limited. The analysis of the printed New York Times demonstrates a trend of science journalism in large newspapers: the necessity to move on to other topics. After 2010, NYT dramatically lowered its coverage of disp ersants, despite more available research providing better answers to the questions that arose about dispersants during DWH. NYT did not cover most of those studies, demonstrating the tendency of national media to have little patience for the individual con tributions toward understanding a scientific issue (Dean 2009). In essence, while science benefits from long term research of environmental disasters, national news has little space available for the piece by piece findings of the scientific community. Maj or breakthroughs, rather than the necessary smaller studies needed to reach such breakthroughs, are what often count as newsworthy in a national newspaper. 4.2 Conclusion The analysis reveals that NYT coverage of the science of DWH dispersants was inad equate. As with NYT, many printed daily newspapers which by most accounts, are a dying strain are limited in time, attention, and space for covering science. Luckily, NYT and many news sources have websites, in which they can continue coverage of older t opics as more research unfolds. More dispersant coverage did appear on the NYT website through blogs and postings by other news services, especially Greenwire. Additionally, the present study analyzed only hard news articles and briefs. Yet the NYT website contains editorials, blogs, and interactive graphics related to


86 dispersant use for DWH. A comparison of the articles presented in NYT print and on the NYT website may reveal more in depth coverage. A review of editorials would further reveal NYT biases. Importantly, media consumers are increasingly relying on electronic and social media for news. Thus, an analysis of science journalism among these platforms would demonstrate the science news to which a large part of society is exposed. Such an analysis w ould highlight flaws within these popular media platforms.


87 Appendix: NYT Articles Analyzed Baker, P. and Cooper, H. (2010, June 2). Administration opens inquiries into oil disaster. The New York Times pp. A1. Barrett, G. and Sifton, S. (2010, December 19). We said it, 2010. The New York Times pp. WK1. Broad, W. (2010, May 30). A tour of the world's depths. The New York Times, pp. WK4. Broad, W. (2010, June 22). Cold, dark and teeming with life. The New York Times pp. D1. Broa d, W. (2010, August 5). Oil spill cleanup workers include many, very,very small ones. The New York Times pp. A17. Broder, J. (2010, June 22). Panel is unlikely to lift drilling ban this year. The New York Times pp. A17. Broder, J. (2010, October 7) Reports fault administration on spill. The New York Times pp. A20. Broder, J. and Cooper, H. (2010, May 15). Obama rips oil firms for 'finger printing.' The New York Times pp. A13. Broder, J. and Krauss, C. (2012, March 5). Oil drilling in the gulf rebounds as prices promote exploration. The New York Times pp. A1. Broder, J. and Zeller Jr., T. (2010, May 4). Bad. But an apocalypse? The New York Times pp. A1. Dewan, S. (2010, May 17). In first success, a tube captures some leaking oil. Th e New York Times pp. A1. Dewan, S. (2010, August 17). Questions linger as shrimp season opens in gulf. The New York Times pp. A19. Dewan, S. (2010, July 15). Sifting a range of suspects as gulf wildlife dies. The New York Times pp. A1. Dewan, S. (2010, August 3). Survey finds broad anxiety among gulf residents. The New York Times pp. A14.


88 Dewan, S. (2010, June 26). Turtle deaths called result of shrimping, not oil spill. The New York Times pp. A9. Dewan, S. and Kaufman, L. (2010, Septe mber 14). Oiled gulf may defy direst predictions. The New York Times pp. D1. Dolnick, S. (2010, May 6). Crisis tested veteran gets arduous final task. The New York Times pp. A20. Fountain, H. (2010, June 25). Since Exxon Valdez, little has changed in cleaning oil spills. The New York Times pp. A23. Fountain, H. and Robertson, C. (2010, May 3). President warns of wide damage from gulf spill. The New York Times pp. A1. Gillis, J. (2010, May 16). Giant plumes of oil forming under the gulf. Th e New York Times, pp. A1. Gillis, J. (2010, August 4). U.S. report says oil that remains is scant new risk. The New York Times pp. A1. Gillis, J. and Robertson, C. (2010, July 28). On the surface,oil spill in gulf is vanishing fast. The New York Ti mes pp. A1. Goodman, P. (2010, July 18). A spill into the psyche. The New York Times pp. WK1. Goodman, P. (2010, August 22). In case of emergency: what not to do. The New York Times pp. BU1. Harmon, A. (2011, January 7). A son of the bayou, torn over the shrimping life. The New York Times pp. A10. Harmon, A. (2010, May 30). Gulf Coast fishermen fear disruption of their way of life. The New York Times pp. A13. Kaufman, L. (2011, April 12). Gulf studies yield more than damage. The New York T imes pp. D1. Kaufman, L. (2010, May 2). New cleanup method holds hope for well leaking about 210,000 gallons a day. The New York Times pp. A31. Kaufman, L. (2010, June 18). Spill may have taken its largest victim yet. The New York Times pp. A19.


89 Kaufman, L. and McKinley Jr., J. (2010, May 11). Cleanup tools remain 1990's technology. The New York Times pp. A12. Kaufman, L. and Robertson, C. (2010, April 26). Days after rig explosion, well is pouring thousands of gallons of oil into gulf. The New York Times pp. A11. Kaufman, L. and Rosenthal, E. (2010, May 28). Worry about dispersant rises as men in work crew complain of health problems. The New York Times pp. A15. Krauss, C. (2010, June 12). BP directors to discuss suspension of dividen ds. The New York Times pp. A12. Krauss, C. (2010, May 7). For BP, a technological battle to contain leaks and an image fight, too. The New York Times, pp. A18. Krauss, C. and Robertson, C. (2010, July 31). Oil spill officials talk of shift from em ergency. The New York Times pp. A11. Krauss, C. and Robertson, C. (2010, April 27). Robots working 5,000 feet underwater to stop flow of oil in Gulf of Mexico. The New York Times pp. A11. Krauss, C. and Rosenthal, E. (2010, May 13). The price and who pays: updates from the gulf. The New York Times pp. A18. Krauss, C. and Saulny, S. (2010, May 11). New dome is prepared to contain leaking oil. The New York Times pp. A12. Krauss, C. and Werdigier, J. (2012, February 8). Two years after spills,BP profits and plans. The New York Times pp. B1. Leland, J. (2010, June 21). Monitoring the manatee for oil ills. The New York Times pp. A20. Marsh, B. (2010, June 6). Even with a cleanup, spilled oil stays with us. The New York Times pp. WK3. McK inley Jr., J. (2010, June 3). Fishermen wait on docks as oil gushes. The New York Times pp. A24. Mouawad, J. (2010, July 22). 4 oil firms commit $1 billion for gulf rapid response plan. The New York Times pp. B1. NYT. (2010, June 10). Day 50: The Latest on the oil spill. The New York Times pp. A21.


90 NYT. (2010, June 30). Day 70: The Latest on the oil spill. The New York Times pp. A21. NYT. (2010, July 1). Day 71: The Latest on the oil spill. The New York Times pp. A18. NYT. (2010, August 3). Day 104: The latest on the oil spill. The New York Times pp. A14. NYT. (2010, June 26). How much has spilled and how far? Seeking answers as questions mount. The New York Times pp. A11. NYT. (2010, May 23). Talk about a mess May 16 22. The New Yor k Times pp. WK2. NYT. (2010, May 31). The latest on the oil spill. The New York Times pp. A13. Robertson, C. (2010, June 15). Efforts to repel gulf spill are described as chaotic. The New York Times pp. A1. Robertson, C. (2010, August 5). In gulf good news is taken with grain of salt. The New York Times pp. A1. Robertson, C. (2010, May 9). New setback in containing gulf oil spill. The New York Times, pp. A1. Robertson, C. (2010, April 25). Oil leaking underwater from well in rig blast. The New York Times pp. A14. Robertson, C. (2011, April 7). Oil spills may leave more emotional than physical scars,study finds. The New York Times pp. A15. Robertson, C. (2010, April 30). U.S. intensifies bid to control oil spill in gulf. The New York Times pp. A1. Robertson, C. and Rosenthal, E. (2010, May 21). Officials voice anger after touring shores fouled by slicks and tar balls. The New York Times pp. A15. Rosenthal, E. (2010, May 6). In Gulf of Mexico,a huge experiment with chemical di spersants. The New York Times pp. A22. Rosenthal, E. (2010, May 25). In standoff with environmental officials, BP stays with an oil spill dispersant. The New York Times pp. A17. Rudolf, J. (2010, November 6). Dead coral found in gulf,with oil the ma in suspect. The New York Times pp. A10.


91 Rudolf, J. (2010, June 2). Deep underwater, threatened reefs. The New York Times pp. A16. Rudolf, J. (2010, November 24). Scientists back early government report on gulf spill. The New York Times pp. A18. Saulny, S. (2010, May 15). Odd smells in New Orleans, thoughts of the gulf. The New York Times A12. Severson, K. (2010, July 14). As oil and fear spread, gulf fishing rules tighten. The New York Times pp. D1. Severson, K. (2010, May 7). Fish sell s out as threat creeps closer. The New York Times, pp. A18. Solomon, J. and Robertson, C. (2010, June 4). Logs show coast guard saw potential threat early. The New York Times pp. A16. Wald, M. (2010, August 1). Despite directive, BP used dispersant often, panel finds. The New York Times pp. A20.


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