Center for Environmental Studies

Gregory Durrell on “Looking at the Impact of Offshore Oil and Gas Development in Alaska”

Gregory Durrell is a Senior Research Scientist and chemical engineer at Battelle where he specializes in sediments found in water. As a research and consulting firm, Battelle is unique in its purely scientific approach. Durrell spoke about his work in the chemistry of sediment offshore Alaska.

Durrell began his log lunch with a brief history of oil production in Alaska. In 1977, oil production took off with the building of the trans-Atlantic Alaska pipeline. At first, oil was extracted from shallow wells and now that those sources have been depleted, oil companies have sought to extract oil from the deep ocean, off the shore of Alaska. Offshore drilling is a controversial process as it involves many steps that can potentially harm the environment. Some examples of the possible harmful side effects are acoustic sampling which can interfere with the migration patterns of marine mammals, discharge from pumping oil, and accidental spills.

Durrell and his colleagues explore the possible impacts from offshore drilling by looking at the health of the most basic organisms and existing sediment. Zooplankton and benthic organisms are used to access the health of other living organisms in the water. From a chemistry standpoint, Durell looks at the chemicals in sediment by collecting samples of sediment cores to see if there are any chemical contaminations. The sampling stations are located in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. As the companies who are interested in offshore drilling in Alaska have not started drilling yet, Durell’s work has been to look at the chemical baseline of the sediments. His research has proven that all the chemicals are in alignment with expected values. This is not say there are no levels of petrochemicals in the ocean as there are natural amounts released from the ocean floor. Regardless of whether or not oil companies decide to or decide not to drill, the baseline will be valeeble information for the future as scientists continue to explore the affects of climate change in areas such as the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

By Helen Song ’14

Gregory Durrell (right) and his daughter, Stephanie Durrell '14 (left)

Gregory Durrell (right) and his daughter, Log Lunch co-head cook Stephanie Durrell ’14 (left)