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BP Oil on Gulf Floor Draws Concern

BP Oil on Gulf Floor Draws Concern thumbnail

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.

Heavy contamination from the oil spill is limited to a few locations in the Gulf relatively close to BP’s Macondo well, officials said. Chemical tests have confirmed that oil in some sediment there matches oil from the BP well, according to the report by scientists advising federal spill-response officials.

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

“We’ve reached that point of diminishing returns,” said Charlie Henry, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration involved in the report. Tests show levels of oil contamination that could threaten organisms in the Gulf. But “there’s no longer any action we can take” to remove spilled BP oil far offshore, he said.

Closer in, from Florida to Louisiana, patches of oil remain in the water beside some beaches that were hit particularly hard by the spill. Some of that oil clearly “is from the Macondo well,” said Sam Walker, another NOAA scientist.

The report finds that some of the oil near the shoreline could wash ashore. Workers will continue to try to remove oil left on beaches and in marshes in some parts of the coast, officials said.

BP interpreted the report as good news. “The scientific evidence in this report is consistent with our observations that the beaches are safe, the water is safe, and the seafood is safe,” said Mike Utsler, head of the company’s spill-response effort, in a statement.

Under federal law, a company found responsible for an oil spill must pay for environmental damage the government finds the spill caused. The more Gulf contamination that research links to the BP spill, the more money the federal government is likely to push BP to pay.

The report leaves unanswered many questions about the spill’s environmental impact that scientists are likely to be researching—and BP and the government are likely to be fighting over—for years.

For instance, officials sprayed some 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants on the oil to break it up and prevent it from washing ashore. In some sediment, tests found a chemical contained in dispersant, but its environmental impact is unknown, the report said.

Separately, a federal judge in New Orleans on Friday ordered Transocean Ltd., the owner of the drilling rig that blew up when it was drilling BP’s well, to give federal investigators safety records for other rigs it had in the Gulf at the time.


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