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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Georgia researchers think most of the BP oil is still in the Gulf and will take years to dissipate

Posted:   Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Georgia researchers think most of the BP oil is still in the Gulf and will take years to dissipate
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [Wall Street Journal] By Robert Lee Hotz - Augsut 17, 2010 -
Researchers at the University of Georgia said Monday that more than three-quarters of the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon drilling-rig explosion could still be in the Gulf threatening fisheries and marine life, disputing government statements that much of the oil had been safely dispersed.

The federal National Incident Command, which has been coordinating clean-up efforts, reported earlier this month that the damaged well had spewed about 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf before it was capped. Half of that oil had been safely burned off, skimmed, or directly recovered and another 25% had evaporated or dissolved, the federal researchers said.

Both the UGA assessment and the federal calculations it contradicts are estimates based on incomplete information. Federal researchers cautioned that their results would be refined as better information became available.

The UGA team, which has been at the forefront of investigating the underwater oil plumes created by the leaking well, took a closer look at the government's calculations and came to a more pessimistic conclusion: As much as 79% of the oil and its toxic byproducts still remained in the subsurface waters of the Gulf.

Moreover, it might easily be years before these petrochemicals disappear.

'One major misconception is that oil that has dissolved into water is gone and, therefore, harmless,' said UGA marine scientist Charles Hopkinson, the senior investigator in the effort. 'The oil is still out there, and it will likely take years to completely degrade.'

Federal researchers involved in preparing the earlier estimate couldn't be reached for comment late Monday. Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington and New Orleans also couldn't be reached for comment.

In a statement, Dr. Hopkinson said most of the oil classified by the government as dispersed, dissolved or residual was actually still in the water. Using a range of likely evaporation and degradation estimates, the group calculated that 70% to 79% of oil spilled into the Gulf still remains.

The group said it was impossible for all the dissolved oil to have evaporated because only oil at the surface of the ocean can evaporate into the atmosphere and large plumes of oil are trapped in deep water.

The UGA study hasn't yet been published, nor has it been peer-reviewed by independent researchers.

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