Massive Plume from BP Oil Spill Discovered

A group of scientists say they’ve discovered a massive plume of hydrocarbons from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. According to a statement from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the plume measured at least 22 miles long and was located more than 3,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. The WHOI study appears in the Aug. 19 issue of the journal Science.

“These results indicate that efforts to book keep where the oil went must now include this plume,” Christopher Reddy, a WHOI marine geochemist and oil spill expert and one of the authors of the study, said in the statement.

The findings are based on some 57,000 discrete chemical analyses measured in real time during a June 19-28 scientific cruise aboard the R/V Endeavor. The oil droplets that make up the plume are too small for the eye to see, but samples of the plume analyzed by the scientists confirmed the existence of benzene, toluene, ethybenzene, and total xylenes.

They plume was coming from the gushing well, and followed an invisible underwater channel just over a mile wide and 650 feet thick, the team said. The scientists haven’t been able to track the plume since June, when they were interrupted by Hurricane Alex, so it is not known what state it is in now.

The plume has shown that the oil already “is persisting for longer periods than we would have expected,” Camilli said. The team saw no signs that microorganism were degrading the oil in the plume, meaning it could persist for some time.

Contrary to previous predictions by other scientists, the team found no “dead zones,” regions of significant oxygen depletion within the plume where almost no fish or other marine animals could survive. However, that doesn’t mean that other marine life is not at risk. According to a report in The Washington Post, the depths where the plume was discovered are a habitat for small fish and crustaceans. Small fish go from deep water to more shallow areas, taking nutrients from the ocean depths up to the large fish and mammals. Such sea life could be harmed traveling through the oil.

The new report is raising more questions about the federal government’s assertion that much of the crude from the BP oil spill has already disappeared. 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 that finally stopped the flow on July 15. Earlier this month, a scientific team led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report purporting nearly 75 percent of the oil had been captured, burned off, evaporated or broken down in the Gulf.

In other news, Transocean Ltd., the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, is accusing BP of withholding data from both the rig and the spill. According to a letter from Transocean to the oil company’s lawyers obtained by the Associated Press, BP has refused to turn over documents key to identifying the cause “of the tragic loss of eleven lives and the pollution in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Transocean said that BP released limited records only after the company agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement at BP’s request. According to the Associated Press, copies of the letter were also sent to government agencies, commissions and lawmakers investigating the spill’s cause. Transocean claims BP has rebuffed at least seven of its requests for information. The letter demands a long list of technical documents and lab tests.

According to a Washington Post report, BP’s lawyers are calling the Transocean letter a “publicity stunt.” and said it was “designed to draw attention away from Transocean’s potential role in the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.”

As the Post points out, both companies are targets of a Justice Department criminal probe, and face myriad investigations and lawsuits over the oil spill. It’s not surprising that each would try to deflect blame for the disaster on the other.

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