Strong Evidence Emerges of BP Oil on Seafloor

The Wall Street Journal

By JEFFREY BALL

A university scientist and the federal government say they have found persuasive evidence that oil from the massive Gulf of Mexico spill is settling on the ocean floor.

New research shows that environmental damage from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could be significant where it’s hardest to find: deep under the Gulf’s surface. Jeffrey Ball and Neal Lipschutz discuss. Also, David Reilly says when it comes to bolstering growth prospects, or at least investors’ belief in them, the Fed may deserve a better grade than it’s been given credit for.

The new findings, from scientists at the University of South Florida and from a broad government effort, mark the latest indication that environmental damage from the blowout of a BP PLC well could be significant where it’s hardest to find: deep under the Gulf’s surface.

The amount of oil that has settled in the sediment—and the extent of damage it has caused—remains unclear. But scientists who have been on research cruises in the Gulf in recent days report finding layers of residue up to several centimeters thick from what they suspect is BP oil.

The material appears in spots across several thousand square miles of seafloor, they said. In many of those spots, they said, worms and other marine life that crawl along the sediment appear dead, though many organisms that can swim appear healthy. How the death of organisms in the sediment might affect the broader Gulf ecology is something scientists are studying.

University of South FloridaOily sediment recovered from the seafloor about 20 miles from the well.

DeepOil

DeepOil

Tests to determine how much of the material on the seafloor matches the spilled oil are continuing. But the fact that tests now have started to link some oil in the sediment to the BP well could add to the amount of money BP ends up paying to compensate for the spill’s damage.

Under federal law, companies found responsible for an oil spill have to pay compensation for the resulting environmental harm. The more BP’s oil is found to have polluted the Gulf floor and killed marine life there, the more money the government is likely to press BP to pay.

Getty ImagesWorkers clean tarballs from the BP spill on a Waveland, Miss., beach on Monday, nearly eight months after the spill began.

DEEPOIL

DEEPOIL

The test results also raise questions about the possible downsides of the government’s use of chemical dispersants to fight the spill.

Under federal direction, about 1.8 million gallons of dispersants were sprayed on the spilled oil in an effort to break it up into tiny droplets that natural ocean microbes could eat up. At the time, officials said the dispersants shouldn’t cause oil from the spill to sink to the seafloor. However, more recently, a federal report said dispersants may have helped some spilled oil sink to the sediment.

Scientific teams have reported in recent months finding a strange substance on the Gulf floor, in some cases as far as about 80 miles from BP’s ill-fated Macondo well, which blew out in April and spilled an estimated 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf before it was capped.

They have speculated that the substance—found as deep as 2,300 meters below the surface— was oil from the BP blowout. But, until now, they haven’t had this evidence from chemical tests.

David Hollander, an oceanographer at the University of South Florida, said in an interview that he and colleagues have just completed tests showing that the chemical profile of oil they found in Gulf sediment matches that from the blown-out BP well.

~ by fredfelleman on December 10, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: