Independent research suggests 80 percent of oil may still be lingering in the deep sea
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Two weeks after the federal government announced that most of BP’s oil in the Gulf of Mexico had been burned, skimmed or had otherwise miraculously “disappeared,” a different story is emerging from research conducted by scientists with the University of Georgia and the University of South Florida.
The preliminary results of the studies suggest that some of the heaviest and most toxic components of the oil are settling on to the sea floor, and that in some cases, it’s affecting plankton, which forms the crucial basis of the ocean food chain.
Eager to move on to new topics and refresh their ratings, the mainstream media latched on to the government statements on the cleanup, helping to create a public perception that the spill was under control. But early this week, questions about the underwater oil bubbled back to the surface. A number of newspapers and even the Associated Press reported Tuesday that as much as 80 percent of the spilled oil may remain floating deep in the water for many months to come.
The reason it’s floating deep in the water is because of the unprecedented amount of dispersant applied to oil as it gushed out of the broken well. The general idea was to keep the oil from forming huge slicks that would float toward shore on the surface. And in the long run, if the oil dissipates to concentrations near background levels, that application may yet be viewed as a good choice.
But the early results of the independent university studies tell us it’s too early to reach that conclusion.
The federal report on the cleanup explained how bacteria in the water decompose the oil, but neglected to mention that much of the oil is still floating at great depths, where the water is colder and biological processes are much slower. As a result, the university researchers estimated after sampling the water that much more oil still lingers in the Gulf, with as-yet unknown consequences for marine organisms deep in the ocean.
Near the surface, it’s a different story. Some areas have re-opened for fishing and shrimp boats are at work harvesting one of the Gulf’s most important commercial species.
The toxicity of the oil-dispersant mix has been established by EPA research and other studies suggest that, because of the way the dispersant breaks the oil down, it makes it easier for the toxic constituents to enter the food chain.
According to an independent toxicology expert, the federal government failed to “recognize that dispersants have placed toxic components of BP crude into the water with subsequent marine uptake. This oversight is likely the result of a heavy focus by the agency on the dispersant itself. The finding ignores what remains in the water after dispersant has been applied to the oil, particularly at such extreme water depths.”
Read the statement by toxicologist Dr. William Sawyer here.
Filed under: BP Gulf oil spill, Environment, oil drilling, Summit County Colorado Tagged: | Environment, Gulf oil spill, marine biology, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, University of Georgia, University of South Florida