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Keywords:

  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons;
  • Steranes;
  • Triterpanes;
  • Pristane;
  • Crude oil

Abstract

An objective of a multiyear monitoring program, sponsored by the US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was to examine temporal and spatial changes in chemical and biological characteristics of the Arctic marine environment resulting from offshore oil exploration and development activities in the development area of the Alaskan Beaufort Sea. To determine if petroleum hydrocarbons from offshore oil operations are entering the Beaufort Sea food web, we measured concentrations of hydrocarbons in tissues of amphipods, Anonyx nugax, sediments, Northstar crude oil, and coastal peat, collected between 1999 and 2006 throughout the development area. Mean concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), saturated hydrocarbons (SHC), and sterane and triterpane petroleum biomarkers (StTr) were not significantly different in amphipods near the Northstar oil production facility, before and after it came on line in 2001, and in amphipods from elsewhere in the study area. Forensic analysis of the profiles (relative composition and concentrations) of the 3 hydrocarbon classes revealed that hydrocarbon compositions were different in amphipods, surface sediments where the amphipods were collected, Northstar crude oil, and peat from the deltas of 4 North Slope rivers. Amphipods and sediments contained a mixture of petrogenic, pyrogenic, and biogenic PAH. The SHC in amphipods were dominated by pristane derived from zooplankton, indicating that the SHC were primarily from the amphipod diet of zooplankton detritus. The petroleum biomarker StTr profiles did not resemble those in Northstar crude oil. The forensic analysis revealed that hydrocarbons in amphipod tissues were not from oil production at Northstar. Hydrocarbons in amphipod tissues were primarily from their diet and from river runoff and coastal erosion of natural diagenic and fossil terrestrial materials, including seep oils, kerogens, and peat. Offshore oil and gas exploration and development do not appear to be causing an increase in petroleum hydrocarbon contamination of the Beaufort Sea food web. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2012; 8: 301–319. © 2011 SETAC