Posted by: reefrescue | August 9, 2010

U.S. Gulf oil spill report called ludicrous

The U.S. government estimated Monday that the Deepwater Horizon spill had yielded about 4.9 million barrels’ worth of crude.

On Wednesday a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report said that about 33 percent of the spilled oil in the water has been burned, skimmed, dispersed, or directly recovered by cleanup operations. (See “Gulf Oil Cleanup Crews Trample Nesting Birds.”)

 Another 25 percent has evaporated into the atmosphere or dissolved in the ocean, and 16 percent has been dispersed via natural breakup of the oil into microscopic droplets, the study says. (Read more about how nature is fighting the oil spill.)

The remaining 26 percent, the report says, is still either on or just below the surface, has washed ashore or been collected from shores, or is buried along the coasts.

Oil Spill Report “Almost Comical”?

For all their specificity, such figures are “notorious” for being uncertain, said Robert Carney, a biological oceanographer at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge.

That’s in part because the fluid nature of the ocean means that it’s “exceedingly hard” to track oil. “Water is always moving—if I go out to the spill site tomorrow and look for hydrocarbons, I might not find much, because the oiled water is already gone.” But to accurately figure out how much oil is left, you need to know how much went into the Gulf to begin with, he said. “Once you start off with that fundamental measure”—the total amount of oil spilled—”being an educated guess, then things aren’t that great.”

To University of South Florida chemical oceanographer David Hollander, the NOAA estimates are “ludicrous.”

“It’s almost comical.”

According to Hollander, the government can account for only about 25 percent of the spilled Gulf oil—the portion that’s been skimmed, burned off, directly collected, and so on. The remaining 75 percent is still unaccounted for, he said.

For instance, the report considers all submerged oil to be dispersed and therefore not harmful, Hollander said. But, given the unknown effects of oil and dispersants at great depths, that’s not necessarily the case, he added. “There are enormous blanket assumptions.”

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