Oil In The Gulf: There’s A Lot More Than We Thought
I like to think that anything that Tony Hayward says is wrong. It’s wrong because he’s clueless, or it’s wrong because he’s lying. Either way, if Hayward said it, it’s wrong.
Back when the well exploded, on Earth Day nonetheless, I don’t think that anyone could have foretold that the well would spew oil into the ocean for 4 months. I think we all thought that there were expensive and state of the art safeguards in place to keep oil from just spewing into the ocean.
No way anyone thought that oil would flow unfettered into the ocean for as long as it did.
Indeed, there were safeguards, it’s just that BP ignored them, or had a government issued waiver to ignore them.
Ultimately, a company like BP, or any other company for that matter, is in the business of making money. BP makes money by cheaply extracting as much oil from the ground as possible, processing it and then selling that oil for as much profit as possible. The environment be damned.
My question is this: Now what?
What do we do now? Are we just supposed to go on about our day like nothing happened? Are we supposed to ignore the 22 mile long plume of oil 3000 feet beneath the surface?
Chances are, we will go on with our lives as if nothing happened in the gulf. Except that I have that stupid Blue Sky Mine song by Midnight Oil stuck in my head.
In the weeks after BP’s blown well began gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists wondered about what would happen to all that crude—whether it would pool at the surface, or somehow spread underwater. This wasn’t a tanker spill like the Exxon Valdez disaster, in which the oil was lost on the surface of the water and stayed there. It was a deep underwater well, in which oil gushed a mile down. Early groups of researchers theorized that some of the oil might spread in underwater plumes—perhaps aided by the liberal application of chemical dispersants at the wellhead. But then-BP CEO Tony Hayward wouldn’t hear of it. “They’re aren’t any plumes,” he said at the end of May. “The oil is on the surface.”
Well, Hayward is long gone, but it still kind of feels good to say it: he was wrong. Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report saying that 74% of the spilled oil had evaporated or been been skimmed, dispersed, burned or consumed by microorganisms. That sounds like great news — but there’s a big loophole, and it’s in that word “dispersed.” Oil that’s broken up into fine droplets is still oil, after all, and a new study published in the August 19 issue of Science contains the best evidence yet that a 22 mi-long underwater plume of oil exists more than 3,000 ft. below the surface — and that the crude definitely came from BP’s well. More worrying, the oil inside the plume is breaking down much slower than it would at the surface, meaning it’s likely to linger for a long time, posing a potential threat to marine life. (See pictures of critters decimated by the oil spill.)
“The chemistry of this plume clearly shows that it comes form the Deepwater Horizon spill,” says Richard Camilli, a researcher with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering Department and the lead author of the paper. “This is something that is really unexpected.”
It’s unexpected for a simple reason — oil is supposed to float on water, so it’s reasonable to believe that even if it’s released 5,000 ft. below the surface of the Gulf, it would eventually make its way to the top. But the Science paper shows that that simple premise isn’t so simple after all, and that at least some of the oil stayed in the middle depths. The study relied on some 57,000 chemical analyses conducted during a research cruise in the Gulf between June 19 and 28, using an autonomous underwater vehicle and a mass spectrometer capable of detecting chemical signatures. The entire study was suggested and funded in just a few days by the National Science Foundation (NSF), as part of the NSF’s rapid response to the spill. “That’s lighting speed for research,” says Camilli. (See an interactive timeline of the first 100 days of the spil