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International Conference on Climate Change Global Warming

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Effects of sheens associated with offshore oil and gas development on the feather microstructure of pelagic seabirds

Author(s): O’Hara PD, Morandin LA

Abstract

Operational discharges of hydrocarbons from maritime activities can have major cumulative impacts on marine ecosystems. Small quantities of oil (i.e., 10 ml) results in often lethally reduced thermoregulation in seabirds. Thin sheens of oil and drilling fluids form around offshore petroleum production structures from currently permissible operational discharges of hydrocarbons. Methodology was developed to measure feather microstructure impacts (amalgamation index or AI) associated with sheen exposure. We collected feather samples from two common North Atlantic species of seabirds; Common Murres (Uria aalge) and Dovekies (Alle alle). Impacts were compared after feather exposure to crude oil and synthetic lubricant sheens of varying thicknesses. Feather weight and microstructure changed significantly for both species after exposure to thin sheens of crude oil and synthetic drilling fluids. Thus, seabirds may be impacted by thin sheens forming around offshore petroleum production facilities from discharged produced water containing currently admissible concentrations of hydrocarbons.

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