BP Oil Spill Update (Feb. 2015)

I noticed that my 2013 Earth Week BP Oil Spill update is one of the most visited pages on my blog, and was wondering why. Well, I finally figured it out.

A few weeks ago, some scientists (study found here) are speculating that there may be 10 million gallons of oil, previously “missing,” stuck in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. The last set of BP’s criminal trials also ended Monday Feb. 2nd, but a decision isn’t expected for months.

For background: in April 2010, there was an oil spill of catastrophic proportions in the Gulf of Mexico due to negligence by BP executives and an explosion on an oil rig. This negligence caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history: 4.9 million barrels (205 million gallons) of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico over months, and the blast from the explosion killed 11 workers and sent oil spewing into the Gulf for 87 days. In September 2014, BP was finally found liable for the oil spill in 2010 in court, and was charged with gross negligence. The oil giant could pay up to $4,300 per barrel spilled in fines on top of everything they have already paid (number is floating around $13.7 billion).

Map of the spill during summer 2010 (photo by NASA)
Map of the spill during summer 2010 (photo by NASA)

Fast-forward to now. In January 2015, researchers at Florida State University published a paper, lead by Professor in Oceanography Jeffery Chanton, about taking sediment cores from the Gulf of Mexico to test them for oil:

The researchers took 62 sediment cores from an area encompassing 9,266 square miles (24,000 square kilometers) around the site of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Unlike other sediment on the ocean floor, oil does not contain any carbon-14, a radioactive isotope. Therefore, sediment samples without carbon-14 indicate that oil is present. (Read more on LiveScience.com)

Guys. This is a problem.


There have been discrepancies in reports of how much oil was spilled. Despite these discrepancies, BP has been charged with criminal intent in the whole debacle. During the spill, thousands of gallons were removed in a plethora of different ways. No one thought to look down.

Here’s more from LiveScience:

It’s unclear exactly how the oil got there after the spill. One idea is that the oil particles clumped together at the water’s surface, or in plumes from the underwater leak, and became heavy enough to sink to the bottom of the Gulf. Cleanup crews also burned large patches of oil, and the resulting black carbon and ash could have sunk into the water, the researchers said. Or, zooplankton (tiny animals that drift near the water’s surface) may have ingested the oil and discarded it in fecal pellets that sank to the Gulf floor, the researchers added.

For now, the sunken oil may help keep the water above it clear and free of black oil particles, Chanton said, but it’s turning into a long-term problem.

“There’s less oxygen down there, and so that will slow the decomposition rate of the oil,” Chanton said. “It might be there for a long period of time, a little reservoir of contamination.” Moreover, the oil may cause tumors and lesions on underwater animals, research suggests.

The next question is this: how are we going to remove the oil? Are we going to remove the oil? Who will be responsible for the clean-up?

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