Professor Samantha Joye of the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia, who is conducting a study on a research vessel just two miles from the spill zone, said the oil has not disappeared, but is on the sea floor in a layer of scum – confirming earlier studies by the university saying as much as 80 percent of the oil still remained in the Gulf.
The studies also confirm that hundreds of thousands of gallons of the controversial oil dispersant Corexit dumped on the spill may have done more harm than good by simply cosmetically cleaning up the problem, which, at the bottom of the sea, will do far more long term harm than good.
“We’re finding it everywhere that we’ve looked. The oil is not gone,” Joye said. “It’s in places where nobody has looked for it.”
The oil will undergo tests to determine its exact provenance, but Joye said there is simply too much oil to be chalked up to natural seepage.
The discoveries are bound to reignite suspicions between residents of the Gulf of Mexico and the Federal Government, which was initially criticized for its handling of the spill. It also vindicates independent environmental research conducted by southern US universities after the spill began, which were initially witheringly denied by Federal response units and BP.
The findings also coincide with the 9th Conference of Arctic Parliamentarians now taking place in the European Parliament, where Bellona and others are demanding a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.
“The Deepwater Horizon spill has revealed huge knowledge gaps,” said Bellona President Frederic Hauge. “We know very little about how long it takes for oil to dissipate.”
All 13 of the core samples Joye and her team have collected from the bottom of the gulf are showing oil from the spill, she said.
In an interview with ABC News from her vessel, Joye said the oil cannot be natural seepage into the gulf, because the cores they’ve tested are showing oil only at the top. With natural seepage, the oil would spread from the top to the bottom of the core, she said.
“It looks like you just took a strip of very sticky material and just passed it through the water column and all the stuff from the water column got stuck to it, and got transported to the bottom,” Joye said. “I know what a natural seep looks like — this is not natural seepage.”
In some areas the oily material that Joye describes is more than two inches thick. Her team found the material as far as 70 miles away from BP’s well.
“If we’re seeing two and half inches of oil 16 miles away, God knows what we’ll see close in – I really can’t even guess other than to say it’s going to be a whole lot more than two and a half inches,” Joye said.
This oil remaining underwater has large implications for the state of sea life at the bottom of the gulf.
Independent experts vindicated
For Ian MacDonald, a Florida State University biological oceanographer, who is not a part of Joye’s team, the latest studies confirm that the government assessments, especially the August report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), were too optimistic.
The oil “did not disappear,” he said. “It sank.”
MacDonald had long supported the theory that Joye’s group is proving, and his research about spill size estimates that contradicted those issued by the Joint Information Command, comprised of Federal and oil industry officials, constantly devilled officials versions of events as they unfolded.
Joye said she spent hours studying the core samples and was unable to find anything other than bacteria and microorganisms living within.
“There is nothing living in these cores other than bacteria,” she said. “I’ve yet to see a living shrimp, a living worm, nothing.”
Studies conducted by the University of Georgia and the University of South Florida caused controversy back in August when they found that almost 80 percent of the oil that leaked from BP’s well is still out in the waters of the Gulf.
NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco had earlier savaged Joye and her team for team for reporting the discovery of massive underwater plumes of oil in the Gulf. Yet after much public debate NOAA finally acknowledged it had no ships in the Gulf trying to research underwater oil plumes.
Oil smears the administration
Joye and her team’s report stands in stark contrast to that of the federal government, which on August 4 declared that 74 percent of the oil was gone, having broken down or been cleaned up.
“A report out today by our scientists shows that the vast majority of the spilled oil has been dispersed or removed from the water,” President Obama said in August, referring to the NOAA findings.
The studies by Joye and other scientists found that what the government reported to the public in August only meant that the oil still lurked, invisible in the water.
Though initially denying the claim, BP – and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – acknowledged the existence of the dispersed oil. BP subsequently pledged $500 million for gulf research.
The White House and the NOAA have so far issued no statement on the University of Georgia findings.
“Nobody should be surprised,” by the findings, Joye said. “When you apply large scale dispersants, it goes to the bottom – it sediments out. It gets sticky.”
Bellona’s Hauge agreed.
“It may seem as if BP and US authorities have been too quick to declare the danger is over. The use of dispersants has drawn a lot of oil down into the water, which extends the oil’s life,” he said.