When the US government announced three-quarters of the oil from BP’s leak “has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated” and what was left posed no risk, I said that the findings would be controversial.
What I didn’t say is that they would be blatantly challenged by scientists as wildly wrong.
Scientists from the University of Georgia have been at the forefront of monitoring the spills impact, especially the deep underwater plumes.
In a study released yesterday they argue that up to 80% of the oil spilled is still present and remains a threat to the Gulf ecosystem and fisheries.
The report is authored by five prominent marine scientists. “One major misconception is that oil that has dissolved into water is gone and, therefore, harmless,” said one of the scientists, Charles Hopkinson, director of Georgia Sea Grant and professor of marine sciences in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
Hopkinson added: “The oil is still out there, and it will likely take years to completely degrade. We are still far from a complete understanding of what its impacts are.”
Hopkinson argues that most of the oil classified by the government as dispersed, dissolved or residual was actually still in the waters of the Gulf. Using a range of likely evaporation and degradation estimates, the group calculated that 70% to 79% of oil spilled into the Gulf still remains.
In what seems a rudimentary mistake for the US Government to have made, the independent scientists said it was impossible for all the dissolved oil to have evaporated because only oil at the surface of the ocean can evaporate into the atmosphere and large plumes of oil are still trapped in the deep water.
Other scientists agree that rather than the perception that the US government has tried to portray – that the spill is over – this is just the beginning.
Chemist Dana Wetzel said that Government’s conclusion felt like the “closing credits of a movie.”
“It’s like they were saying ‘the end,’” Wetzel, program manager at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, said in an interview with Business Week last week. “I’d say we have just gotten through setting up the plot.”
No prizes for who will be the villains of the show…