Waves of New Contamination: Study Shows Oil from Last Year’s Spill Isn’t Breaking Down on Gulf Floor


BP may finally be second-guessing its strategy to use toxic dispersants to sink oil from its runaway Macondo Well to the seafloor. Why? The oil isn’t breaking down underwater as researchers predicted it would.

That bombshell scientific finding – released Tuesday in an Auburn University study – has experts concerned about the potential for persistent “re-oiling” of Gulf beaches and long-term contamination of Gulf fisheries. BP’s unprecedented and unauthorized subsea application of 2 million gallons of Corexit kept the oil hidden from public view, but now it may linger for years on the seafloor, contaminating shores and waters as it’s stirred up with each passing of rough weather (most recently Tropical Storm Lee).

From a Sept. 20 Associated Press report:

Auburn University experts who studied tar samples at the request of coastal leaders said the latest wave of gooey orbs and chunks appeared relatively fresh, smelled strongly and were hardly changed chemically from the weathered oil that collected on Gulf beaches during the spill.

The implications for the health of the Gulf ecosystem and lingering economic damages are enormous. It’s a situation one marine scientist described as “economically toxic” for the tourism industry. On the heels of T.S. Lee, residents and local officials reported large, “fresh” tar mats and tar balls (some the size of grapefruits) littering beaches up and down the Gulf Coast. My guess is BP cleanup crews will be a fixture on our shores for the foreseeable future. More from the AP article:

The study concluded that mats of oil – not weathered tar, which is harder and contains fewer hydrocarbons – are still submerged on the seabed and could pose a long-term risk to coastal ecosystems.

BP didn’t immediately comment on the study, but the company added cleanup crews and extended their hours after large patches of tar balls polluted the white sand at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach starting around Sept. 6. Tar balls also washed ashore in Pensacola, Fla., which is to the east and was farther from the storm’s path.

I would also apply the “economically toxic” prognosis to the multibillion-dollar Gulf seafood industry, a stalwart of the coastal economy that could take years to fully recover. Bottom-dwellers – oysters, crabs and certain kinds of shrimp, like Royal Red – could be particularly hard hit by the slow degrading process on the Gulf floor. Renewed “seafood safety” concerns are sure to be part of the study’s fallout. From the AP report:

Marine scientist George Crozier said the findings make sense because submerged oil degrades slowly due to the relatively low amount of oxygen in the Gulf’s sandy bottom.

“It weathered to some extent after it moved from southern Louisiana to Alabama…but not much has happened to it since then,” said Crozier, longtime director of the state sea laboratory at Dauphin Island.

In an inverted application of the “whatever goes up, must come down” rule of physics, BP’s oil is coming home to roost and will be for some time.

Read the full AP report here: http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2011/09/20/general-energy-us-gulf-oil-spill_8690634.html

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved


  • The people in “the know” are being suppressed or dieing? Scientists, doctors, fishermen are not being heard… the media is purposely avoiding the updates! The Research is not being done, or being suppressed! People are still dieing from the methane and Corexit and chemical testing is still not being made available! My government knows the answers, BP knows they are totally liable, yet all still are taking the wait and see attitude? This totally goes against our Constitutional Rights! You, Stuart Smith, a lawyer, I ask “how can we collectively fight this?” Is it possible to ban together lawyers from every southern state affected to fight for the people? Form a Coalition for the people? Thankyou for your time, I’ll await your reply.

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