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Millions Of Gallons Of Oil Settled At The Bottom Of The Gulf After BP Oil Spill

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Millions of gallons of oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill didn’t get cleaned up, and instead settled in the sediment of the Gulf of Mexico’s floor, a new study has found.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that 6 to 10 million gallons of oil from the spill are buried in the seafloor. The researchers measured the amount of carbon 14 — a radioactive carbon isotope that’s found in organic material but not found in oil — in an approximately 24,000 km² area of sediment near the spill site, a process which allowed them to see what parts of the sediment were low in carbon 14 and thus contained oil.

The study sought to determine two things: whether oil had, in fact, settled on the seafloor, and how much of it had settled. Jeff Chanton, Professor of Oceanography at Florida State University and lead author of the study, told ThinkProgress that he had thought the total amount of oil they would find at the ocean floor would be higher, because after the spill, so many people had observed the oil clumping at the water’s surface and sinking.

Regardless of the amount, however, Chanton said that sedimentation was a “new phenomenon” that hadn’t been heavily observed or studied after previous oil spills.

“Everyone thinks oil is very buoyant and that it just floats on the surface,” Chanton said. So in the past, sedimentation of oil hasn’t been a main concern for scientists and cleanup workers. The federal Oil Budget Calculator, which was developed to determine where the oil of the Deepwater Horizon spill ended up in the short term, didn’t include efforts to figure out how much of the oil ended up in the Gulf’s sediment.

The researchers found that the oil was buried in the top layers of the Gulf’s sediment, meaning that if the sediment is stirred up in the future, the oil could once again enter the water. Chanton said the oil’s position on the sediment’s surface also means that it’s a part of the food chain: the worms and other benthic organisms that live on the seafloor and feed on sediments will ingest the oil, and the contaminants associated with the oil will be passed on to the creatures that eat the worms. That could be a long-term problem for the health of these deepwater Gulf fish, Chanton said.

Chanton’s study isn’t the first to look at sedimentation after the Deepwater Horizon spill. Last fall, a study found the spill had left a 1,235-square-mile “bathtub ring” of oil on the ocean’s floor. And last May, after a group of researchers spent about a month in the Gulf, one of them — Andreas Teske, marine sciences professor at the University of North Carolina — told ThinkProgress that the oil on the bottom of the seafloor is becoming “part of the geological record.”

“Since one cannot take a gigantic vacuum cleaner and clean up this stuff, getting buried is the best alternative,” Teske said.

Oil’s been found to have gathered in sediment closer to shore too: last year, a 1,250-pound tar mat was discovered off the beach of Santa Rosa Island, Florida.

Chanton’s study comes amid the third and final stage of BP’s civil trial for the spill. Earlier this month, an expert witness for BP testified that the Gulf’s shoreline had shown “substantial recovery” since the spill, and that BP’s work to clean up the oil had been “comprehensive” and “effective.” A BP executive also claimed in Politico last year that his company “didn’t ruin the Gulf.” But Chanton’s study — and previous studies on the health of the Gulf post-spill — shows that though beaches might be cleaner than they were four years ago, the spill’s lasting impact on the Gulf has yet to be determined.

ThinkProgress



5 Comments on "Millions Of Gallons Of Oil Settled At The Bottom Of The Gulf After BP Oil Spill"

  1. peakyeast on Fri, 30th Jan 2015 10:10 pm 

    Its a sign of our collective low intelligence that there is no death penalty issued for this kind of deliberate destruction of millions of peoples livelyhood and which probably will kill countless numbers of people and other animals over the years.

  2. writeby on Sat, 31st Jan 2015 7:56 am 

    Environmentalist Mythology, Part 2: Slicker Than Oil
    BY Me
    Copyrighted 2001

    “On a calm day, you can’t take a boat ride [in the Gulf of Mexico] without seeing gigantic oil slicks,” according to Harry Roberts, Louisiana State University marine geologist (“Oil Fields’ Free Refill,” Newsday, 4/2002). Naturally, we all know—thanks to environmentalists—that the sources of those slicks are the greedy, malevolent oil companies.

    Not.

    The gigantic oil slicks in the Gulf to which Roberts refers are the result of what’s known as “seeps”—areas on the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico where large amounts of oil and gas escape through natural fissures. Scientists, including Texas A&M University chemical oceanographer, Chuck Kennicutt, have recently discovered that the oil and gas are surging up from deeper strata far beneath the Gulf.

    Moreover, the seepage that naturally occurs in the Gulf of Mexico, said Roberts, “far exceeds anything that gets spilled” by the petrochemical industry (see reference below ).

    Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects, The National Academies Press (2003)

    Indeed, the A&M researchers estimated the clams alone to be 100 years old. Geologists, oil workers, ships’ captains—everyone, apparently, save environmentalists—have long known the Gulf seeps exist. According to Roberts, “the Gulf of Mexico leaks like a sieve. You can’t take a submarine dive without running into an oil or gas seep.”

    Since the first Earth Day, environmentalists have set about constructing a cunningly slick mythology calculated to replace genuine Earth science fact with a cross between rural folklore and urban legend.

    We’ve been told, for instance, that if we engage in offshore oil drilling, we risk the catastrophe of oil spills. Given the research data already mentioned, that would appear to be less than true. What about the other side of that myth—that the world is running out of oil?

    Funny you should ask.

    Yet another interesting fact about seeps is that the deep strata oil causing them is also beginning to fill some of the known oil reservoirs, replenishing them, in geologic time, at a very rapid rate, sometimes within three to ten years. If that proves the rule rather than the exception, then the world’s supply of oil would be much, much greater than previously thought. It would mean—someone please alert the media—that we’re not running out of oil.

    What we do appear to be running out of, though, is sufficient domestically produced petroleum to run our economy. In these post-911 times, that’s pretty critical to national security, right? Solving that problem would surely make for a safer nation, wouldn’t it?

    Then how should we treat those environmentalists and politicians who, by seeking to ban oil exploration in the U.S. (and even the construction of new oil refineries, along with that of electrical and nuclear power plants), keep America dependent for oil upon Mideast tyrants—tyrants who also happen to be bankrolling, with their oil profits, the leaders and comrades of the 911 terrorists?

    Why, invite the environmentalists to lead Earth Day sing-a-longs at our schools and re-elect the politicians—again and again and again.

    Naturally.

    After the Fact:

    “Geochemist Says Oil Fields May Be Refilled Naturally,” New York Times, 2005
    “Oil Fields Are Refilling…Naturally-Sometimes Rapidly: There Are More Oil Seeps Than All The Tankers On Earth,” Robert Cooke, Staff Writer – Newsday, 2005

  3. shortonoil on Sat, 31st Jan 2015 1:07 pm 

    “On a calm day, you can’t take a boat ride [in the Gulf of Mexico] without seeing gigantic oil slicks,” according to Harry Roberts, Louisiana State University marine geologist (“Oil Fields’ Free Refill,” Newsday, 4/2002).”

    The Gulf has been sailed since the 1500’s, and as recently as the 1800’s sailing ships from around the world daily plowed its waters. That was long before the oil industry had arrived. Yet, with thousands of ships a year in those waters during those early years, there is not one report of slicks to be found in their logs.

    The Gulf has had over a quarter of a million wells drilled in its waters. Like what is now being found in Pennsylvania, wells are leaking in ever increasing numbers as they age. Natural seeps have been reported since before the arrival of the Common Era, but slicks seem to have arrived with the industry. The preponderance of evidence indicates slicks in the Gulf are occurring as a result of oil production. The Gulf is leaking like a sieve because drillers have spent most of the last century turning it into one. Denying that possibility is disingenuous, self serving, and only reinforces the growing opinion that oil production is a very damaging business for the earth.

  4. Boat on Sat, 31st Jan 2015 1:14 pm 

    And if the fish get sick and we eat them maybe some of the human herd will be culled. Ya reap what you sew the bible says.

  5. GregT on Sat, 31st Jan 2015 2:29 pm 

    “Yet another interesting fact about seeps is that the deep strata oil causing them is also beginning to fill some of the known oil reservoirs, replenishing them, in geologic time, at a very rapid rate, sometimes within three to ten years.”

    Hurray! We’ve been saved. Stop wasting all of those billions of dollars looking for oil that is no longer affordable to modern industrial society. The known oil reserves are refilling themselves faster than we can pump the oil out!

    YEE HAW!!!!!

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