Monday, February 21, 2011

Gulf Oil Legacy: not gone by 2012 according to scientist

In early February, the U.S. appointed head of the oil compensation fund, set up at the conclusion of the BP Gulf oil spill, declared that the Gulf of Mexico would be almost back to normal by 2012. Administrator Kenneth Feinberg said this was based on research he had commissioned.

Dr. Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia has a simple retort: he's wrong. Dead wrong.

Having traveled over 2,600 square miles using submersibles and taking over 250 seafloor core samples over five expeditions from prior to the April 20 spill to just this past December, what Joye has seen tells her that the oil is still there in great abundance and that the impact will be present for many years to come.

Making a presentation at a science conference in Washington D.C., Joye showed slides and video of dead sealife and oil residue that has not been consumed by the microbes that have been touted as the great Pac Man-like oil gobblers that would clean up the Gulf.

"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.

"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 different opinion."

Much of Joye's work and that of several colleagues has been slow to surface to the attention of decision-makers and scientific journals because of a greater interest in reports of oil disappearing in the Gulf. Joye and her colleagues are the party spoilers.

But the hard truth is that, while it may be true that a considerable amount of the oil that flowed from the Deepwater Horizon disaster may be gone, there was such an enormous amount of oil in total, what remained would have a horrendous impact on the Gulf for many years to come.

Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), sides with Joye in her assessment and disagrees with Feinberg.

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."

Joye sighted in her report not only residual oil and various dead sealife like crabs and brittle stars, but a soot-like residue from oil burning and also methane. Methane gas was released during the course of the spill which, according to a study just published in Nature Geoscience by Joye and three of her colleagues, equaled another 1.5 million to 3 million barrels of oil.

While there are several Gulf restoration projects beginning - some government-mandated, others part of out-of-court settlements - it would be prudent to turn to hard realists like Dr. Samantha Joye who can deliver the facts while governments and oil companies seek to sweep this all under an oceanic rug

Read more from AO via U.K.'s

University of Georgia/Associated Press photos.

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