|Scientist finds Gulf bottom still oily, dead
Scientist finds Gulf bottom still oily, dead
WASHINGTON – Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on
the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a top scientist’s video
and slides that she says demonstrate the oil isn’t degrading as hoped
and has decimated life on parts of the sea floor.
That report is at odds with a recent report by the BP spill compensation czar that said nearly all will be well by 2012.
At a science conference in Washington Saturday,
marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia aired early
results of her December submarine dives around the BP spill site. She
went to places she had visited in the summer and expected the oil and
residue from oil-munching microbes would be gone by then. It wasn’t.
"There’s some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to
identify for why this stuff doesn’t seem to be degrading," Joye told the
American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference
in Washington. Her research and those of her colleagues contrasts with
other studies that show a more optimistic outlook about the health of
the gulf, saying microbes did great work munching the oil.
"Magic microbes consumed maybe 10 percent of the
total discharge, the rest of it we don’t know," Joye said, later adding:
"there’s a lot of it out there."
The head of the agency in charge of the health of the
Gulf said Saturday that she thought that "most of the oil is gone." And
a Department of Energy scientist, doing research with a grant from BP
from before the spill, said his examination of oil plumes in the water
column show that microbes have done a "fairly fast" job of eating the
oil. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab scientist Terry Hazen said his
research differs from Joye’s because they looked at different places at
Joye’s research was more widespread, but has been slower in being published in scientific literature.
In five different expeditions, the last one in
December, Joye and colleagues took 250 cores of the sea floor and
travelled across 2,600 square miles. Some of the locations she had been
studying before the oil spill on April 20 and said there was a
noticeable change. Much of the oil she found on the sea floor — and in
the water column — was chemically fingerprinted, proving it comes from
the BP spill. Joye is still waiting for results to show other oil
samples she tested are from BP’s Macondo well.
She also showed pictures of oil-choked
bottom-dwelling creatures. They included dead crabs and brittle stars —
starfish like critters that are normally bright orange and tightly
wrapped around coral. These brittle stars were pale, loose and dead. She
also saw tube worms so full of oil they suffocated.
"This is Macondo oil on the bottom," Joye said as she
showed slides. "This is dead organisms because of oil being deposited
on their heads."
Joye said her research shows that the burning of oil
left soot on the sea floor, which still had petroleum products. And even
more troublesome was the tremendous amount of methane from the BP well
that mixed into the Gulf and was mostly ignored by other researchers.
Joye and three colleagues last week published a study
in Nature Geoscience that said the amount of gas injected into the Gulf
was the equivalent of between 1.5 and 3 million barrels of oil.
"The gas is an important part of understanding what happened," said Ian MacDonald of Florida State University.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief
Jane Lubchenco told reporters Saturday that "it’s not a contradiction
to say that although most of the oil is gone, there still remains oil
Earlier this month, Kenneth Feinberg, the
government’s oil compensation fund czar, said based on research he
commissioned he figured the Gulf of Mexico would almost fully recover by
2012 — something Joye and Lubchenco said isn’t right.
"I’ve been to the bottom. I’ve seen what it looks
like with my own eyes. It’s not going to be fine by 2012," Joye told The
Associated Press. "You see what the bottom looks like, you have a
NOAA chief Lubchenco said "even though the oil
degraded relatively rapidly and is now mostly but not all gone, damage
done to a variety of species may not become obvious for years to come."
Lubchenco Saturday also announced the start of a Gulf
restoration planning process to get the Gulf back to the condition it
was on Apr. 19, the day before the spill. That program would eventually
be paid for BP and other parties deemed responsible for the spill. This
would be separate from an already begun restoration program that would
improve all aspects of the Gulf, not just the oil spill, but has not
been funded by the government yet, she said.
The new program, which is part of the Natural Resources Damage
Assessment program, is part of the oil spill litigation — or
out-of-court settlement — in which the polluters pay for overall damage
to the ecosystem and efforts to return it to normal. This is different
than paying compensation to people and businesses directly damaged by
The process will begin with public meetings all over the region.
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