Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have detected a plume of hydrocarbons that is at least 22 miles long and more than 3,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, a residue of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In the study released yesterday in Science, researchers measured petroleum hydrocarbons in the plume and determined that the source of the plume could not have been natural oil seeps but had to have come from the blown out well.
The study adds to the controversy over how much oil is still in the Gulf ecosystem from the spill (NBC). It also challenges US government estimates that natural processes were rapidly breaking down the toxic crude, as report authors said deep-sea microbes were degrading the plume only slowly and predicted the oil would endure for some time (AFP).
Chris Haney, chief scientist for Defenders of Wildlife said, “The report released yesterday in Science is as innovative as it is sobering. WHOI is to be commended for deploying a sophisticated array of methods to document the vast extent and unexpectedly slow degradation of hydrocarbons released into the deep Gulf environment.
“Along with a University of Georgia study that refutes a flawed government analysis put out to disguise the real fate of the oil, the two recent studies ought to convince the media, the administration and the American public that credible science trumps spin every time.”
For weeks, BP disputed claims from scientists that a huge plume of dispersed oil droplets had formed in the gulf, with its chief executive at the time, Tony Hayward, declaring at one point, “There aren’t any plumes.” (NYT)