BP Oil Slick Buried on Sea Bed

The take home here is that theoil spill has left the water column and has settled into the sediments on thesea bottom to depths not exceeding several centimeters.  Since no natural sediments saturated in oilare observed, although ample opportunity for their occurrence exists, it isreasonable that this layer will be consumed within even a couple of yearsthough no one actually knows. Or if they do, they are not saying.

Whatever the length of timeinvolved, the bulk of the damage is now constrained to the sea bottom itselfand will eventually clean up.  This itembeats the drums of outrage a bit, but the alternatives were even more unimaginable.

It all ends with a whimper.  The real achievement was that the well wasplugged before it was cut off with a relief well.  We now know how to tackle the problem and wehope never see it again.  Recall these dispersantswere created because of certain previous disasters.

The good news is that we wereable to engineer a solution on the fly one mile down to the sea bed.

The Oil Slick BP Tried To Hide Has Been Discovered InThick Layers On the Sea Floor Over An Area of Several Thousand Square Miles

By Washington'sBlog

BP and the government famouslydeclared that most of the oil had disappeared.

But as I've noted, as muchas 98% of the oil isstill in the ocean.

I have repeatedly pointed out that BP and the government appliedmassive amounts of dispersant to the Gulf Oil Spill in an effort tosink and hide the oil. Many others said the samething.

BP and the government denied this, of course.

But the oil is not remaining hidden.

Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal noted on December9th:

A university scientist and the federal government say they have foundpersuasive evidence that oil from the massive Gulf of Mexicospillis settling on the ocean floor.
The new findings, from scientists at the University of South Florida andfrom a broad government effort, mark the latest indication that environmentaldamage from the blowout of a BP PLC well could be significant whereit's hardest to find: deep under the Gulf's surface.


Scientists who have been on research cruises in the Gulf in recent daysreport finding layers of residue up to several centimeters thick from what theysuspect is BP oil.
The material appears in spots across several thousand square miles of seafloor, they said. In many of thosespots, they said, worms and other marine life that crawl along the sedimentappear dead, though many organisms that can swim appear healthy.


Tests now have started to link some oil in the sediment to the BP wellcould add to the amount of money BP ends up paying to compensate for thespill's damage.


The test resultsalso raise questions about the possible downsides of the government's use ofchemical dispersants to fight the spill.


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

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


"The chemical signatures are identical," said Mr. Hollander,who found the contaminated samples in an area of the Gulf floor off the Florida Panhandle.Although it's conceivable the tests could show a false match with the BP oil,"the statistical probability of something like that is unimaginable,"Mr. Hollander said.

The federal government also has found oil matching Macondo oil in Gulfsediment, Steve Murawski, a top National Oceanic and AtmosphericAdministration scientist, said in an interview. He declined to disclosehow much sediment contamination the government found, or exactly where in theGulf it was, saying experts still are analyzing the test results.


Samantha Joye, a University of Georgia oceanographer, alsohas found what she believes to be evidence of BP oil in Gulf sediment. She isawaiting lab results tracing the chemical fingerprints of sediment samples shetook.

On a research cruise in the Gulf that ended Friday, she saw worms thatcrawl along the Gulf floor "just decimated," she said. But eels andfish, which can swim away, often appeared fine, she said.

The Journal noted on December18th:

Oil from BP PLC's blown-out well has lodged in the sediment of the Gulf of Mexico at levels that may threaten marine life,according to a federal report released Friday.


There is no practical way to clean up the spilled oil that has settleddeep in the Gulf, officials said, adding that microbes in the water could eventually eat it up.

The massive application of dispersants to hide the amount of oilspilled has caused major problems to the Gulf:
  • The use of dispersants prevented clean up of the oil by skimming, by far the easiest method of removing oil from the water
  • Dispersants make the toxins in crude oil more bioavailable to sealife, and scientists have found that applying Corexit to Gulf crude oil releases many times more toxic chemicals into the water column than would be released with crude alone (and see this)
  • Dispersant might have caused some of the chemicals in oil to become airborne (and see this and this)
  • The crude oil which does not become aerosolized sinks under the surface of the ocean, and can delay the recovery of the ecosystem by years or even decades (see the Wall Street Journal article quoted above)
Extend-And-Pretend Will Fail

As I noted in May -shortly after the spill started - the responses of the government to the GulfOil spill and to the financial crisis are remarkably similar, as both have focused on covering up theproblems, instead of actually fixing them. Because the financial system wasnever really reformed, the next financial shock will send the economy reeling.

Because the oil was never properly cleaned up, the next hurricane willstir up immense quantities of oil now lying on the sea floor.

Extend-and-pretend is being attempted in both cases, and - in bothcases - it will fail, because nothing has been fixed, and the fundamentals canonly remain hidden for so long.

Moreover, in both cases, the government used "highly toxic"measures to try to hide the real problems. The government has used"emergency measures" and virtually all of its resources to prop upthe giant banks instead of using the proven methods of restructuring insolvent banks andprosecuting the criminals whocaused the crisis, which has caused major problems for the realeconomy.

Similarly, the government applied close to 2 million gallons of highlytoxic dispersant to hide the amount of oil instead of using it's resources todeploy tried-and-true clean up methods, which has caused significant problems forthe Gulf.

Finally, new and potentially bigger crises will take place, becauseregulation hasn't been put in place to prevent them. Regulation of thefinancial system - including international agreements like Basil III - have been gutted (andsee this). And as Timemagazine notes:

Congress never managed to pass legislation that would have overhauleddrilling safety.

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