Oil found on gulf floor may be from BP spill
Scientists’ findings contradict report crude is dissipated
NEW ORLEANS — Scientists have found a thick layer of oil in the canyons of the Gulf of Mexico, a University of Georgia researcher said yesterday, linking the finding to BP’s busted well.
Oil at least 2 inches thick was found Sunday night and yesterday morning about a mile beneath the surface. Under it was a layer of dead shrimp and other small animals, researcher Samantha Joye said from the helm of a research vessel in the gulf.
The latest findings cast doubt on the initial assertion by the federal government that much of the spilled oil is gone.
At these depths, the ocean is a cold and dark world. Yet scientists say that even though it may be out of sight, oil found there could do significant harm to the strange creatures that dwell in the depths — tube worms, tiny crustaceans and mollusks, single-cell organisms, and unique fish with bulging eyes and skeletal frames.
“I expected to find oil on the sea floor,’’ Joye said in a ship-to-shore phone interview. “I did not expect to find this much. I didn’t expect to find layers 2 inches thick. It’s weird the stuff we found last night. Some of it was really dense and thick.’’
Joye said 10 of her 14 samples showed visible oil, including all the ones taken north of the Deepwater Horizon’s well. She found oil on the sea floor as far as 80 miles away from the site of the spill.
“It’s kind of like having a blizzard where the snow comes in and covers everything,’’ Joye said.
The look of the oil, its state of degradation, and the way it settled on freshly dead animals all made it unlikely that the crude was from the millions of gallons of oil that naturally seep into the Gulf of Mexico from the sea bottom each year, she said. Later this week, the oil will be tested for the chemical fingerprints that would conclusively link it to the
“It has to be a recent event,’’ Joye said. “There’s still pieces of warm bodies there.’’
Since the well was capped July 15 after about 200 million gallons spurted into the gulf, there have been signs of resilience on the surface and the shore. Sheens have disappeared, while some marshlands have shoots of green.
This recovery is probably a result of massive amounts of chemical dispersants, warm waters, and a gulf that is used to degrading massive amounts of oil, scientists say.
For Ian MacDonald, a Florida State University biological oceanographer who was not part of Joye’s team, the latest findings confirm that government assessments about how much oil remains — especially a report on the subject by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in August — were too optimistic.
The oil “did not disappear,’’ he said. “It sank.’’
Not all scientists agree with this assessment.
Ed Overton, a Louisiana State University chemist who has analyzed the spill for NOAA, doubted much oil was resting on the bottom. He said the heavier components in oil — the asphalts — make up only about 1 percent of the oil that was spilled.
Also yesterday, it was revealed that the federal government hired a New Orleans man for $18,000 to appraise whether news stories about its actions in the oil disaster were positive or negative for the Obama administration, which was keenly sensitive to comparisons between its response and former President George W. Bush’s much-maligned reaction to Hurricane Katrina.
The Coast Guard paid $9,000 per month for two months to John Brooks Rice of New Orleans, an on-call worker for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, under a no-bid contract to monitor media coverage from late May through July.