No, BP did not make the oil in the Gulf “disappear”


This week has been something of an upsetting one for the millions of Gulf Coast residents whose lives were turned upside down by the massive BP oil spill in 2010. Inside the federal courthouse in New Orleans, lawyers for the British oil giant have been pushing to reduce the civil penalties it will have to pay for the widespread damage under the Clean Water Act. In doing so, the firm has called a steady parade of witnesses seeking to prove that the Deepwater Horizon incident — which killed 11 workers before spewing close to 5 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico — wasn’t really so bad and that whatever environmental damage that did occur was quickly cleaned up, allowing fishing, tourism and other activities to spring back to normal.

Over the last five years, nothing has summed up the paradox and the folly of BP’s argument than its use — approved and even encouraged by the federal government — of the highly toxic dispersant Corexit. In the weeks following the catastrophe of 2010, some 1.8 million gallons of this hazardous material was poured onto the oil spill. Later studies would document how this dispersant poisoned not just marine life but the hearty coastal residents who signed up to work cleaning up BP’s oil. So why dump a toxin onto an already toxic oil slick? The answer is simple: BP’s No. 1 priority was to keep the worst of the spill out of the public’s view, not to keep people safe.

But this also raises a question: If the oil isn’t on the surface, where did it go? Contrary to BP’s pleadings, it didn’t just disappear:

The mystery of the missing gallons of oil after the BP oil spill in 2010 has been solved by scientists who have traced the oil to the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico.

A study led by Florida State University Professor of Oceanography Jeff Chanton has found around 6 million to 10 million gallons buried in the sediment on the Gulf floor, about 62 miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta.

In the long-term, this spells trouble as the low oxygen levels on the sea floor mean the oil will not be decomposed by bacteria.

“This is going to affect the Gulf for years to come,” Chanton said. “Fish will likely ingest contaminants because worms ingest the sediment, and fish eat the worms. It’s a conduit for contamination into the food web.”

Using carbon 14, a radioactive isotope, as a tracer the team mapped the oil sediment distribution on the sea floor. Oil does not have carbon 14, so sediment that contained oil would immediately stand out.

This really serves as a metaphor for what’s happened to the Gulf — and why it’s imperative that BP pay the fullest penalty possible under the law. Just like those millions of gallons of oil, the most insidious aftereffects of the Deepwater Horizon spill remain buried beneath the surface, but they will affect life in our region, and most likely for decades, to come. Clean-up workers are still suffering from headaches, nausea, and much more serious illnesses. Fishing boats are still returning to harbor with nets that are empty or containing fish that are pock-marked by disease. Marshlands continue to shrink, robbing New Orleans and other coastal communities of the last line of defense against the next major hurricane. BP did not magically make the oil disappear, nor are things nearly back to normal. The millions of gallons of crude still stuck on the bottom of the Gulf is tragic proof of that.

You can read more about our fight against BP and the Deepwater Horizon cover-up in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America:

Find out more about how 10 million gallons of BP’s oil is still coating the floor of the Gulf:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • I am still angry with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who falsely claimed in 2010 that the “vast majority of the BP oil spill is now completely gone,” and that the remaining 25% consists of residual oil that is buried in sediments and sand.

    The NOAA claimed that most of the oil evaporated naturally or, thanks to a “robust federal response” — was skimmed, burned, recovered, or dispersed. What a bunch of cow dung. It now appears as if the NOAA was on the BP payroll. How else do you explain their breathtaking incompetence?

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

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