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Offshore Oil & Gas rig

Battelle Oil & Gas Newsletter

September 2015 - Issue 6

Industry Insights
Polar bear on ice

New Analytical Methods Give Clearer Picture of Hydrocarbon Exposure in Arctic Wildlife

Researchers at Battelle are pioneering new methods for assessing exposure to hydrocarbons in wildlife. By analyzing oxygenated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (“oxy-PAHs”) in animal tissue rather than the parent PAHs, researchers can get a more accurate picture of how wildlife may have been exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons in the environment.

Understanding this impact is especially important on the North Slope of Alaska, where native communities still depend on wildlife such as caribou, arctic birds and marine mammals for subsistence. The North Slope Borough of Alaska came to Battelle to find new ways to analyze hydrocarbon exposure through the food chain. This gives environmental researchers a new tool to help assess whether animals exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons are safe for native populations to hunt and eat. 

PAHs are a compounds that are found in crude oil, other fossil fuels and tars. While environmental studies have long focused on the presence of hydrocarbons in soils and sediments, analyzing their presence in living organisms presents analytical challenges. Living organisms have natural methods to metabolize and excrete PAHs over time. As PAHs are metabolized, they become oxygenated, turning into oxy-PAHs. These oxy-PAHs can be analyzed in excretions to monitor exposure in human health studies. However, finding excretions to analyze for wildlife studies is usually not a viable option. Researchers need methods for measuring oxy-PAHs directly in animal tissue. The new methods developed by Battelle can be used to better assess petroleum hydrocarbon exposure in wildlife populations and make safety recommendations for the human populations that hunt them.

Analyzing oxy-PAHs in animal tissue gives the oil and gas industry a new tool for baseline assessment, monitoring and oil spill response. Researchers will be able to easily monitor biomarkers in sentinel wildlife species and get a more accurate picture of how hydrocarbons flow through the food web.

Battelle has long been a leader in environmental analysis and monitoring for the oil and gas industry. Researchers at Battelle are advancing analytical methods at the molecular, cellular, genetic, population and ecosystem levels to better understand the environmental and human health risks of hydrocarbon exposure.