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article imageGulf’s seabed organisms dead by oil ‘deposited on their heads’

By Lynn Herrmann     Mar 1, 2011 in Environment
Washington - A new report on last year’s BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, now called a hydrocarbon discharge by some leading scientists, reveals microbes consumed around 10 percent of the total discharge, discounting government statements to the contrary.
Much of the focus on BP’s Gulf of Mexico calamity has centered on the amount of oil released into the Gulf as well as the amount of chemical dispersants used to keep the oil subsurface, away from public scrutiny, but a new report shows the Macondo well blowout also released substantial quantities of “hydrocarbons such as methane into the deep ocean.”
The report, Magnitude and oxidation potential of hydrocarbon gases released from the BP oil well blowout, was published online by Nature Geoscience and estimates that up to 500,000 tons of gaseous hydrocarbons were injected into the Gulf’s deep waters. The report notes the gaseous emissions make up 40 percent of the total hydrocarbon discharge.
Samantha Joye, marine scientist at the University of Georgia and the report’s lead author, recently told the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual conference that oil-consuming microbes had not consumed as much as government and BP-backed scientists have proffered to the public.
“There’s some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn’t seem to be degrading,” Ms. Joye told the AAAS, according to Salon.
Her research, and that of her colleagues, lies in stark contrast to government reports stating most of the oil discharged into the Gulf had vanished, thanks to the work of microorganisms.
“Magic microbes consumed maybe 10 percent of the total discharge, the rest of it we don’t know,” Joye said, Salon reports. “There’s a lot of it out there.”
Joye’s research is based on five different expeditions into the Gulf, the last one in December. She and her colleagues covered 2,600 square miles of the Gulf and retrieved 250 core samples from the sea floor.
Some of the locations had been visited before BP’s catastrophe began last April and Joye said there is a noticeable difference. Much of the oil tested that is lying on the Gulf floor and in its water column has been chemically identified as coming from BP’s Macondo well. Joye is waiting on test results for other oil samples.
“This is Macondo oil on the bottom,” Joye told the AAAS conference during a slide presentation. “This is dead organisms because of oil being deposited on their heads,” she added, according to Salon.
Joye also said the oil burned on the Gulf’s surface has left soot on the Gulf floor, still containing petroleum products.
Terry Hazen, a scientist at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said his research of the water column’s oil plumes showed that the microbes did a “fairly fast” job of consuming the oil. His research is being conducted with the help of a BP grant, Salon reports.
Salon reports that Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told reporters late last month that “it’s not a contradiction to say that although most of the oil is gone, there still remains oil out there.”
Joye and her colleagues who co-authored the report indicate the amount of methane gas forced into the Gulf by the blown out well equaled between 1.5 and 3 million barrels of oil.
That release of gas into the Gulf is little-publicized and mostly ignored, but is a troublesome event. “The gas is an important part of understanding what happened,” said Ian MacDonald, professor of biological oceanography at Florida State University, according to Salon.
Earlier this month, Ken Feinberg, administrator for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, commented that the Gulf of Mexico would be almost fully recovered by 2012, something Joye says is not so.
“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,” Joye told the Associated Press. “You see what the bottom looks like, you have a different opinion.”
According to Salon, Lubchenco said “even though the oil degraded relatively rapidly and is now mostly but not all gone, damage done to a variety of species may not become obvious for years to come.”
More about bp oil spill, Gulf of Mexico, Samantha joye, hydrocarbon gases, macondo well
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