Where'd All the Oil from the BP Spill Go?


Image: NASA Earth Observatory

There was plenty of anger and eye-rolling when the Obama administration announced that its team had determined that over half of the oil from the BP spill was "gone". Today, the federal government sticks by that number (it now says a proper peer review has been completed). But even if half the oil is "gone" (skimmed? transported away? refined? biodegraded?) where are the other 2.5 million barrels? What happened to the rest of the stuff? As we saw earlier today, some of it's still out there floating around -- the bevy of tarballs that just hit Alabama attest to that. But do we have any good idea how much is swirling around in the water, how much has sunk to the bottom, and so forth?

The most recent conclusion is no, we really don't. Here's Mother Jones:

In the months since the Deepwater Horizon blew up and unleashed 4.9 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico, the whereabouts of the oil has been a major subject of research and debate. Some reports suggests the oil has accumulated in large, undersea plumes. Others have found it accumulating on the Gulf floor. But a report compiled by the Congressional Research Service concludes that the actual fate of the oil that remained in the Gulf after clean-up efforts is anyone's guess.
This latest report, "Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: The Fate of the Oil", from the Federation of American Scientists is disturbingly inconclusive: That there are at least 2 million barrels of oil that are unaccounted for in the Gulf, and that there is little evidence as to where it can be found. And MJ notes that the report states that a "substantial portion" of the oil has been removed, but "a greater portion remained, in some form."

And if you're in the mood for a real spirit-lifter, here's the report's final analysis: "It is debatable whether the fate of the remaining oil will ever be established conclusively ... Moreover, as time progresses, determining the fate of the oil will likely become more difficult. Regardless, the question of oil fate will likely be addressed through an incremental process. Researchers are continuing to study various components of the Gulf, specifically damages to natural resources. Some of these efforts may provide clues to the oil's fate."

In other words, we may never know exactly what happened to the colossal amount of oil that was loosed on the Gulf ecosystem -- or how much damage it did.

More on the Gulf Spill
Who's Cleaning Up the BP Spill & How Much Has it Cost?
BP Oil Spill Sparks a Crude Awakening (VIDEO)

Tags: Gulf Oil Spill | Oil | Oil Spill | United States

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