JUNK SCIENCE: NOAA Claims “Gas-Gobbling” Bacteria Consumed Nearly All of the Estimated 200,000 Tons of Methane Spewed into Gulf


More “good news” from the folks who once assured us that the “vast majority” of BP’s oil was gone, only to backpedal like hell when a crush of independent scientists kept finding oil virtually everywhere – including coating large swaths of the sea floor.

This time NOAA, like a scene from a sci-fi movie, is pushing this scenario, as reported by the Washington Post: “…a huge swarm of gas-gobbling bacteria swelled to consume nearly all of the estimated 200,000 tons of methane dumped into the gulf.”

We learn that, back in June, a team sponsored by (guesss who?): “….the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had found intense concentrations of methane in the waters near the wellhead” but later it was gone. Some would say: “duh, it was swept away by ocean currents,” but the NOAA folks say it was eaten up. Gone. Sound familiar?

Again from the Washington Post: “From mid-August through early October, a team aboard the NOAA vessel Pisces searched an area of the gulf larger than Indiana, dipping a package of sensors into the water at 207 locations. They found almost no methane. Instead, their instruments recorded huge pockets of depleted oxygen, which the microbes use to burn the gas.”

Although sampling at 207 locations may seem like it would cover a lot of ground, that really isn’t the case in a body of water as immense as the Gulf of Mexico. First, with enough grant money, you could find 207 places in Indiana where people don’t like the beloved “Hoosiers” movie. But everywhere else in the state, they love it.

The only thing this “research” proves is there was no methane gas detected in a relatively small area at a particular moment in time. It does not prove by any stretch of the imagination that all the methane is gone from the Gulf. Did the researchers model the ocean currents? Was the current moving in the direction in which they tested or was it moving in another direction?

What we have here are researchers manipulating data to gain media attention. The conclusions are junk science. I’d say this: Stop speculating and limit the commentary to what has actually been determined scientifically. Not detecting methane gas in a relatively tight area in no way translates into the “vast majority” of the 200,000 tons of methane is gone.

While interesting, I’m guessing this research is, well, bubbling up now because BP has long argued that about 30 percent of the material spewing out of its Macondo well was methane. So maybe the idea is that this can add one more number to the oil-fine matrix: Total disputed estimate, minus the disputed amount that was salvaged, minus the 30 percent that was eaten by the magic microbes, minus other non-oil residue like ocean mud.

Hell, BP may end up saying we owe them money for feeding our microbes.

It’s not that this new information isn’t fascinating. Of course it is, and the findings are being published in the mainstream media and science journals. But it really shows how little we know about the Gulf biological process, and it’s endlessly frustrating that such reports with more than a whiff of grant money and NOAA patronage are taken at face value despite the agency’s track record. Like the “vast majority” declaration before it, this will now go into an intense peer review process.

The Washington Post story by Brian Vastag is here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/06/AR2011010603570.html?hpid=artslot

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1 comment

  • I’m sure that NOAA ans (GUESS WHO) have each others vested interest in their pockets. Magic Microbes? Can you say nepotism? This whole debacle has been covered over like a cat in a litter box…and not such a smart cat.

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