Raining Oil in Louisiana? Not Likely [Updated]

The Internet is swirling with rumors today that a gloppy mixture of oil and Corexit (the primary dispersant used in the BP disaster) is raining down on Louisiana. Evidence is thin, and based almost entirely on the video below, but we have to wonder—is this even possible?

The notoriously unreliable European Union Times claims that a report prepared for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev by the country's Ministry of Natural Resources warns of a toxic rain from the dispersant and oil mixture. The EU Times explains:

When combined with the heating Gulf of Mexico waters, [Corexit's] molecules will be able to "phase transition" from their present liquid to a gaseous state allowing them to be absorbed into clouds and allowing their release as toxic rain upon all of Eastern North America. Even worse, should a Katrina like tropical hurricane form in the Gulf of Mexico while tens of millions of gallons of Corexit 9500 are sitting on, or near, its surface, the resulting toxic rain falling upon the North American continent could theoretically destroy all microbial life to any depth it reaches

There are no linked sources in the EU Times article, however. And as far as we can tell, the claim is only bolstered by other questionable sources. Prison Planet reports, for example, that "The Gulf of Mexico is heating up as summer progresses. Oil and Corexit 9500 are going through a molecular transition, changing from a liquid to a gas and then absorbed by clouds and released as toxic rain. Oil in the environment is toxic at 11 PPM (parts per million). Corexit 9500 is toxic at only 2.61 PPM." But again, no sources are listed.

We contacted the EPA for a comment on the possibility, but so far we haven't received a definitive answer. An EPA media representative did point us to this article from Tampa Bay's 10Connects news site, which quotes National Weather Servce Science and Operations Officer Charlie Paxton. According to Paxton, black rain isn't possible since oil doesn't evaporate. It is possible, however for rain to mix with other particles—perhaps including Corexit. And water spouts can pick up oil and carry it for short distances.

But chances are the video (above) of an oil/Corexit mixture showing up 45 miles off the Gulf of Mexico is fake. That's not to say that BP should continue using Corexit—the dispersant is carcinogenic—but for now, at least, it seems unlikely that Corexit will rain down on our heads.

Update: The EPA sent us this statement: "EPA has no data, information or scientific basis that suggests that oil mixed with dispersant could possibly evaporate from the Gulf into the water cycle." But one of our readers points us to a report (PDF) from the former Minerals Management Service claiming that lighter crude oils can evaporate. So it might be possible that oil is mixing with rain.

Read more about the Gulf Oil Spill

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Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email


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  • john lester

    very sad to know that this actually happened. . . too much of the pollution has caused this phenomenon to happen . . and these causes very drastic changes on our planet. check out this site theres so,e eco friendly tips and stuff there

  • Chris Reich

    Let's think about this a moment.

    First, we don't know, nor can we determine the authenticity of the video without collaborating evidence. Suppose oil was being rained down in the concentration shown in the video. Why didn't the cinematographer show something like a car windshield? It would be easy to dump oil on the ground during a rainstorm and shoot a quick video. He shows us only the ground.

    So the video is suspect. But let's look at some physics. If you can smell something, anything, use your imagination, it's because some of that material is reaching your nose. (Note: Some things produce a reaction and the smell comes from the production of the reaction) That doesn't mean the material necessarily is changing state and turning to a gas. Some molecules are "free" and bounce into the air and mix with with other molecules and particles.

    There is dust and pollen in the air, right? Dust and pollen don't reach the air by changing state. They are light particles and easily carried by air movement and assisted by heat.

    Back to the spill. Anyone near the scene can smell the oil. There is some oil in the air in sufficient concentration to detect with the human nose. A wind strong could push that inland. Strong wind mixed with rain could collect oil and push a greater concentration inland.

    But oil is heavy. The scientific point being made in the article is that a large quantity will not "evaporate" and thus rain down as shown in the video.

    The danger for a long time however, many years, is not going to be in the seen but rather in the unseen. You won't see or notice 10 parts per million. And yet, the gulf will have vast areas at that concentration for years---maybe indefinitely.

    We'll see lot's of these videos in the coming weeks. A tree will die after a 100 years on the family farm. Someone's garden will fail. A lawn will yellow. We'll hear cancer stories. Most will have no connection with the spill. But some will.

    The point is, we don't need a fake video showing oil flowing in a gutter to know this is a very serious disaster.

    There will be consequences to this spill that no company or nation has the funds to ameliorate.

    Chris Reich

  • Brooke B Farrell

    I have NO idea if it is possible. But, I live in Texas and have heard people from inside the oil industry actually state it is possible for a hurricane to pick up the oil and turn it into rain further inland. When hurricanes come, the salt water usually gets rained down inland and kills off plants that can't take that brackish rain. So, it makes perfect sense to people living in the gulf coast.

    With hurricane season approaching, that's a frightening thought. Not only could we have killed off the wetlands ecosystem and underwater ecosystems, but now we'll start encroaching on ecosystems further inland. (Not to mention what that nasty stuff would do to the paint jobs on our cars. Bummer.)

  • weasel5i2

    Ask yourself this: Gasoline evaporates. Lots of it, when you combine all of the gas stations and the fact that millions of people are nearly constantly refueling. Does it rain down from the sky ever? No..

    Here is the Corexit 9500 Material Safety Data Sheet (PDF):

    Here is a study done on the aquatic toxicity of the Corexit series dispersants:

    From that study: "Fish generally appear to be less sensitive (48 to 96 hour LC50 = 40-96,500 PPM) to Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9580 than are crustaceans (48 to 96 hour LC50 = 21-2,800 PPM)."

    Hope this helps clear up some of the questions in the article!