Gulf Scientist: The Oil’s Still Out There


Another independent expert disputed the Obama administration’s claims that the vast majority of the oil from the BP spill is “gone.” Dr. Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University, told the National Oil Spill Commission on Monday that he believes more than half of the oil is still in the Gulf, and that “much of it is now buried in marine and coastal sediments.”

The administration’s estimates on both the size of the spill and where the oil went have stirred up controversy in recent weeks. While the government claimed in early August that most of the oil was “gone”, independent experts have found oil accumulating on the floor of the Gulf and suspended in giant underwater plumes.

MacDonald’s testimony supports many of these independent reports:

[T]he BP oil discharge was at least 10,000 times more concentrated in space and time and about twelve times greater in magnitude than the total annual release from natural seeps of the Gulf of Mexico. In my scientific opinion, the bulk of this material was dispersed in surface layers, from which about one third evaporated and ten percent was removed by burning or skimming. An additional ten percent was chemically dispersed. The remaining fraction—over fifty percent of the total discharge—is a highly durable material that resists further dissipation. Much of it is now buried in marine and coastal sediments. There is scant evidence for bacterial degradation of this material prior to burial.

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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.