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Researchers: "Not So Fast" on Disappearing Oil in Gulf

August 19, 2010

University of Georgia scientists have written a report disputing the estimate put out by the Joint Information Center - a collaboration between the federal government and B-P - that only 25 percent of the spilled oil remains in the Gulf. Marine Sciences professor Samantha Joye says one major misconception is that the oil that has dissolved into water is gone.

She says the amount biodegraded and the rate of biodegradation are simply not known.

"If you use conservative numbers on what we know about how oil is biodegraded, how fast things turn over, then you come up with 70 percent to 80 percent of the oil still being out there."

The Washington-based nonprofit group Food and Water Watch says this cautionary report means the government should be taking a more deliberate approach in re-opening Gulf areas to fishing and recreation.

Marianne Cufone with Food and Water Watch says news coverage of the government's report claiming "all but 25 percent of the spill is gone" may have left the public with an erroneous impression.

"They're going to hear the number and feel like eating seafood from the Gulf and going to the Gulf of Mexico is safe. But the government just really has not done the testing necessary to be so overconfident."

The Georgia scientists note that their report and the government's arrive at different conclusions. Joye explains that is largely because her group estimates that the vast majority of the oil classified as "dispersed, dissolved or residual" is still present.

"There's oil in the water, there's oil on sediment on the sea floor. There are going to be impacts to the system. We have to continue monitoring and evaluating what those impacts are."

She says almost 2 million gallons of dispersant chemical were used in the water, as well, and they're not testing right now for remnants of that. Therefore, she says, it's not just about the oil, it's also about the chemicals that have been used in the gulf.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY