Many Doubt Rosy BP Oil Spill Report

A report on the BP oil spill released by the Obama Administration yesterday is being greeted with skepticism in some quarters. The report had claimed that nearly 75 percent of the oil released into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s stricken well has already disappeared.

The report was touted yesterday by White House energy adviser Carol Browner as she made the rounds of morning talk shows. She claimed that most of the oil had been captured, burned off, evaporated or broken down in the Gulf.

According to the government report, which was prepared by a scientific team led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 17 percent of the oil gushing from the well was captured by containment devices deployed by BP; 25 percent of the oil either evaporated from the hot ocean surface or dissolved in the water into individual molecules of hydrocarbon; and 16 percent of the oil had dispersed naturally. The report also found that certain percentages of the oil had been burned off, skimmed from the ocean surface, or chemically dispersed.

In the end, the report estimates that 26 percent of the oil remains in the Gulf. Of course, that’s still a lot of crude. According to government estimates, 4.9 million barrels of oil escaped from the well between the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the deployment of a containment cap on July 15. If all government estimates are correct, that means 53 million gallons of oil remain. That’s five times more oil than what was spilled during the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

But not everyone is convinced the government report is getting it right. According to The New York Times, some researchers attacked the findings and methodology, noting that research was still under way to shed light on some of the main scientific issues raised in the report.

“A lot of this is based on modeling and extrapolation and very generous assumptions,” Samantha Joye, a marine scientist at the University of Georgia who has led some of the most important research on the Deepwater Horizon spill, told the Times. “If an academic scientist put something like this out there, it would get torpedoed into a billion pieces.”

“This is a shaky report. The more I read it, the less satisfied I am with the thoroughness of the presentation,” Florida State University oceanographer Ian MacDonald told The Associated Press. “There are sweeping assumptions here.”

Others expressed concerns that the report’s optimistic tone would lead to complacency among the public, and lead them to believe the disaster was over.

“The government says that the oil is almost gone,” Stan Senner, director of conservation science for the Ocean Conservancy, told The Wall Street Journal. “Wow. What a sigh of relief. Let’s move on.”

But Senner, like many other environmentalists, pointed out that the ecological impact of the spill is still unclear, and will probably remain so for years to come.

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