Gulf Floor Still Dead and Coated with Oil: New Independent Research Spurs More Backpeddling from Feds


Once again, somebody is right and somebody is wrong as new independent research once again contradicts the official “oil is gone” messaging on the BP spill.

News going viral this weekend is that Samantha Joye, the renowned University of Georgia scientist who has corrected the government line before, is reporting that submerged oil is, in fact, not degrading as government officials declared and has “decimated” life across large swaths of the sea floor.

Ms. Joye also debunks the claims that “magic microbes” consumed a significant percentage of the oil.

The AP science writer Seth Borenstein has one of the more interesting stories on the findings, which were presented at a scientific conference in Washington. For one thing, NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco continued to backpeddle from the former assurances that the “vast majority” of oil is gone, now telling the AP that “it’s not a contradiction to say that although most of the oil is gone, there still remains oil out there.”

Ms. Joye’s report not only directly contradicts the government but suggests just how much we don’t know: “There’s some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn’t seem to be degrading,” Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington. The AP notes that “…her research and those of her colleagues contrasts with other studies that show a more optimistic outlook about the health of the gulf, saying microbes did great work munching the oil.”

Magic microbes consumed maybe 10 percent of the total discharge, the rest of it we don’t know,” Joye said, later adding: “there’s a lot of it out there.”

These are significant findings, and the “Mission Accomplished” team is going to find them difficult to dismiss. Here’s the background from the AP: “In five different expeditions, the last one in December, Joye and colleagues took 250 cores of the sea floor and travelled across 2,600 square miles. Some of the locations she had been studying before the oil spill on April 20 and said there was a noticeable change. Much of the oil she found on the sea floor — and in the water column — was chemically fingerprinted, proving it comes from the BP spill. Joye is still waiting for results to show other oil samples she tested are from BP Macondo well. She also showed pictures of oil-choked bottom-dwelling creatures. They included dead crabs and brittle stars — starfish like critters that are normally bright orange and tightly wrapped around coral. These brittle stars were pale, loose and dead. She also saw tube worms so full of oil they suffocated.”

“This is Macondo oil on the bottom,” Joye said as she showed slides. “This is dead organisms because of oil being deposited on their heads.”

It will be interesting to see how the all-clear folks preserve any shred of credibility as this flood of actual evidence contradicts their speculation. Among the first to go under the bus could be BP claims czar Kenneth Feinberg, who may now get more pressure to adjust estimates on how long damage will continue.

Says the AP: “Earlier this month, Kenneth Feinberg, the government’s oil compensation fund czar, said based on research he commissioned he figured the Gulf of Mexico would almost fully recover by 2012 — something Joye and Lubchenco said isn’t right.”

“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.” And NOAA chief Lubchenco continued her “save my job” doublespeak, sying that “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.”

The first government counter-messaging salvo has already been fired, with Ms. Lubchenco timing an announcement to counter the new findings. She chose Saturday to announce the start of a Gulf restoration planning process to “get the Gulf back to the condition it was on Apr. 19,” the day before the spill.

Right. A highly credible scientist calls “bull” on the entire government-messaging machine, and the Powers That Be announce new “planning.” If your office has a “resignation pool” going, the odds that Ms. Lubchenco exits soon are pretty high.

The story is all over the place, but don’t miss the AP take:

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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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