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Published On: Mon, Aug 19th, 2019

This Day in History: BP Oil leak contained within 20 miles

It was the summer of 2010 and the BP oil spill captivated headlines as the environmental rose month after month.

From that report: Academic scientists are challenging the Obama administration’s assertion that most of BP’s oil is either gone or rapidly disappearing — citing, among other evidence, the discovery of an undersea “plume” of oil stretching more than 21 miles from the well site.

News of the plume was announced Thursday afternoon by researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. In late June, they found an invisible cloud of oil droplets as tall as a 65-story building and more than a mile wide.

Since then, they said, all that oil was unlikely to have been consumed by the gulf’s crop of hydrocarbon-eating microbes. These work quickly in the warm waters near the surface, but far more slowly in the cold, deep region where the plume was found.

“Our data would predict that the plume would still be there now,” said Benjamin Van Mooy, a Woods Hole researcher.

BP Deepwater horizon oil spill fire

The first-ever comprehensive appraisal of the financial impact on natural resources impacted by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill found that it did $17.2 billion in damage.
Image/US Coast Guard

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Woods Hole researchers declined to speculate about how their findings should alter the government’s official “budget” of what became of BP’s oil. Their inquiry, they said, was limited to finding the plume — and they had not determined how much of all the spilled oil it contained.

In the future, “we may be able to say whether [this plume] is a penny in a very large checkbook,” said Christopher Reddy, of Woods Hole. “Or whether it’s bigger.”

Also this week, university researchers have raised questions about the math used in the government’s accounting. Another group reported finding other indications of lingering oil — this time, droplets on the gulf floor off Florida.

“It all adds up to: It’s not gone,” said David Hollander, a professor at the University of South Florida, who worked on the sea-floor study.

The federal government’s initial estimate of the oil’s fate, which was announced at the White House earlier this month, provided a drastic shift in the narrative of the spill. Suddenly, the disaster looked manageable — its mysteries distilled into a pie chart.

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- Stories transferred over from The Desk of Brian where the original author was not determined and the content is still of interest of Dispatch readers.

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