You remember the August 4, 2010 “Oil Budget” published by NOAA and the USGS that most of the oil spilled from BP’s Macondo well blowout had magically disappeared. In a White House press conference held that day, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen did a victory lap that the leaking well was “static” and Jane Lubchenco joined in the happy talk saying that fish that had ingested oil would quickly rid themselves of that oil and soon be safe to eat. Shortly after, respected scientist Terry Hazen of Berkeley National Labs published a report that microbes were quickly degrading the oil and that it would soon be gone.
I believed at the time that all that happy talk was intended to calm public fears and get coverage of the largest environmental catastrophe in US history off of the television and out of the newspapers. I also believed that the government was intentionally downplaying the damage to help BP stay afloat so they could pay out the $20 billion in damage payments that they had committed. Some of my fears have now been confirmed. An extensive new study, presented this weekend at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science by Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia has found that much of the oil from the Macondo well is still on the bottom of the Gulf and has killed much of the deepwater sea life in that area. Joye’s study consisted of manned deepsea submersible trips and over 250 seafloor cores over 2,600 square miles of the Gulf. (Photo by the University of Georgia)
Joye said of the report, “Magic microbes consumed maybe 10 percent of the total discharge, the rest of it we don’t know; there’s a lot of it out there.” Disputing oil spill czar Ken Feinberg’s assertion that the Gulf will be back to normal by next year, Joye told the Associated Press, “I’ve been to the bottom. I’ve seen what it looks like with my own eyes. It’s not going to be fine by 2012. You see what the bottom looks like, you have a different opinion.” Jane Lubchenco, director of NOAA who published the Happy Talk Report last August, though, is undeterred. On Saturday, she said, “…it’s not a contradiction to say that although most of the oil is gone, there still remains oil out there.”
So. We have a new, exhaustive report by academics that says the sea floor around the Macondo well is dead with a lot of oil on the bottom, yet we still have formerly respected scientists like Lubchenco, who now work for the government, issuing confusing, if not conficting statements claiming the contrary based on little, if any credible research. And, in the midst of this continuing crisis, we see little to no interest from the media about the tragedy and destruction. To my knowledge, this is the first rigorous study done of the sea floor that has been made public. It’s not surprising that it directly contradicts the claims made by the US government over the last six months that everything in the Gulf is okey-dokey.
Of course, it’s not. Far from it.