Photo via Inhabitat
Okay, so the BP spill narrative du jour is that all the oil has disappeared -- dispersed, burned, skimmed away, or magically vanished. Stephen Colbert said he'd found it, but he was mostly kidding. There's only one quarter of the stuff left posing any real threat, according to federal scientists (though it's probably worth staying skeptical of that claim). So that leaves the question: Where did the 150 million gallons of 'disappeared' oil go?
This graphic from the New York Times does a pretty solid job of breaking down how the oil was moved around -- have no illusions, that's what has happened here, the stuff has either been transported away, has evaporated into the atmosphere, has been dispersed in tinier particles into the water column (often with the help of the toxic chemical dispersant Corexit), or has biodegraded. The oil is by no means gone.
My biggest gripe with the Times' graphic here is that it likely underestimates the impact that chemical dispersants had on the oil 'removal'. The AP reported today that dispersants were responsible for a full 1/6th of the Gulf spill oil's disappearance. The Times, which tends to err on the side of caution, marks dispersants down for removing only 8% of the oil -- half of what the AP reported.
And as John Laumer has reported, there's still a pretty serious health risk presented by all of the oil that has evaporated into the air -- air that is of course routinely breathed by residents around the Gulf Coast.
So I'll make a point that I've gotten used to making in the course of the BP Gulf spill coverage: Whether or not the US government says that the remaining oil only poses a 'slight risk' or not, as the NY Times reports, it's better to remain skeptical of their reports until independent studies are done, and we realize the full extent of the damage.