Submerged oil puts the lie to BP’s rosy Gulf spin

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It was just last week that BP published its self-love letter on the electronic pages of Politico, in an effort to convince the world that, in its own laughable words, that, “No, BP Did Not Ruin the Gulf.” One of the more ridiculous claims in the op-ed penned by BP’s own spin-doctor-in-chief Geoff Morrell — especially to those of us who regularly track reports of large-scale tar-ball invasions along once-pristine Gulf beaches — was his boast about the Gulf’s miraculous ability to refresh itself.

In the article, the BP spokesman praised what he called “the Gulf’s inherent resilience” that allows it to handle a certain level of oil leaks. He also claimed that the deep-sea location of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in 2010, killing 11 workers and spewing 5 million barrels of crude into the Gulf, was a mitigating factor that “allowed a lot of oil to dissolve, evaporate, deteriorate or be physically removed before it reached land.” He also credited the work of the Gulf cleanup workers — the same folks who, in thousands of cases, are still ill from breathing BP’s toxic oil fumes, and whom the oil giant is fighting in court to reduce the money it will have to pay them.

The whole piece is absurd. Morrell is hoping that most readers weren’t paying attention to studies that have been released over the last year or so, but haven’t received enough publicity, finding that as much of 1 million barrels of BP’s oil is still out there in the Gulf. However, today came word of yet another major study on BP’s post-Deepwater-Horizon pollution mess, and it’s even more proof that, yes, actually BP did ruin the Gulf:

We all saw the images of oil-coated birds and shorelines in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. These were the most visible impacts of the catastrophe, but much of the oil that gushed from the busted Macondo wellhead 5,000 feet underwater never made it to the surface. Of the estimated 5 million barrels that spilled, approximately 2 million stayed trapped in the deep ocean. And up to 31 percent of that oil is now lying on the ocean floor, according to a new study.

Based on an analysis of sea-floor sediment samples collected from the the Gulf of Mexico, geochemists at the University of California-Santa Barbara were able to offer the first clues about the final resting place of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil. Their results were published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The data, which was gathered as part of the ongoing federal damage assessment, shows “a smokingly clear signal, like a bulls-eye” around the Macondo well, said lead author David Valentine.

When oil first began to shoot out of the broken well, some 2 million barrels’ worth broke up into microscopic droplets before reaching the surface and became suspended in the deep ocean, Valentine said. His goal was to discover the fate of that oil, beyond the reach of any cleanup efforts, four years after the spill. The researchers combed through the sediment samples for traces of hopane, a chemical compound found in crude oil that doesn’t break down over time. Hopane was also used as a indicator of oil distribution following the Exxon-Valdez spill in 1989.

The article shows how Valentine and his co-researchers went to great lengths to establish that the hopane they discovered was linked to the 2010 accident and not the result of natural occurrences. All told, the researchers believe that possibly as much as 620,000 barrels of oil have come to rest on the floor of the Gulf, while a lot of the other crude that spilled that spring and summer remains otherwise unaccounted for. That certainly doesn’t sound anything like oil disappearing from “the Gulf’s inherent resilience,” a magical term that BP likes to throw around because it doesn’t mean anything.

As Mother Jones properly notes in its write-up of the report, the oil on the sea floor may be a more significant long-term impact than the pictures of soiled birds and stranded sea turtles that traumatized the nation four years ago. That’s because, it notes, quoting its earlier reporting on the spill, “the ocean depths are the foundation of the food chain, and the relatively small amounts of oil that wash ashore ‘hardly account for the devastation being wrought in the dark world beyond our sight.'” That’s exactly right — the oil that’s undersea now is already wreaking havoc on the food chain, and some it will likely be kicked up by the next tropical storm, set loose to pollute our beaches with new tar balls all over again. You can quibble all you want about the state of the Gulf, but you cannot quibble about this: Things are nowhere near normal.

Read Mother Jones on the new study of BP oil on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/10/bp-deepwater-horizon-study-oil-ocean-floor

Check out my Oct. 23 blog post about BP’s lie-filled op-ed in Politico: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/bps-politico-puff-piece-wasnt-just-shady-journalism-ethics-it-was-mostly-a-lie/

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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