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New Oil Surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico, and Yes it’s BP’s Oil

New Oil Surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico, and Yes it’s BP’s Oil

It’s been over 3 years since the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded and sank, killing 11 people and dumping millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, yet oil still covers the ocean’s surface surrounding the explosion site.

During the months (yes, plural) that it took to plug the leaking well, the companies responsible deployed all sorts of flashy tactics meant to “contain” and “clean up” the toxic stew: skimmers and booms made from pet hair, aerial drops of dispersants meant to break down the waterborne oil, and teams of workers shoveling oily beach sand into trash bags.

According to BP, these tactics were an overwhelming success. “The oil is gone from the Gulf and everything is as it was before!” they tell us in televised propaganda.

The ocean floor and scores of dead dolphins beg to differ, and now science has backed up the skepticism. A new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology concludes that oil trapped in and around the sunken wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon is slowly making its way to the surface, resulting in continued sheen on the ocean’s surface.

The study was launched when the public complained about new oil floating at the ocean’s surface near the site of the sealed Macondo well. Many feared that the well, which took so long to plug, was leaking again. The researchers discovered that no, the well isn’t leaking (yay!); it’s just the same oil, which BP claimed to have cleaned up, still making its way to the surface.

“This appears to be a slow leak from the wreckage of the rig, not another catastrophic discharge from a deep oil reservoir,” said geochemist David Valentine of UCSB, in a press release. “Continued oil discharge to the Gulf of Mexico from the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon rig is not a good thing, but there is some comfort that the amount of leakage is limited to the pockets of oil trapped within the wreckage of the rig.”

I guess you’ve got to take your silver linings where you can find them.

“To explain how the oil might be trapped and released from the wreckage, the scientists point out that when the Deepwater Horizon rig sank, it was holding tanks containing hundreds of barrels of a mixture of drilling mud and oil,” the release continues. “Over time, corrosive seawater can create small holes through which oil can slowly escape to the surface. The researchers suspect that the containers on the rig holding trapped oil may be the source of the recent oil sheen.”

So there’s no way to know if the sheen will ever truly go away.

Using comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography, a technique developed in Reddy’s lab, the researchers first confirmed that the sheen contained oil from the Macondo well.

Perhaps the only truly encouraging element of this news is that the ongoing investigation of the BP oil spill has allowed scientists to develop a geochemical analytical method that can help tie drifting oil to its true source.

“The ability to fingerprint synthetic hydrocarbons allowed us to crack this case,” Valentine said in the statement. “We were able to exclude a number of suspects and match the olefin fingerprint in the new oil slicks to that of the wreckage from the sunken rig.”

Although this surely isn’t the last big oil spill, not while offshore drilling is still a major element of Big Oil’s global domination, it could be one of the last times a company is able to deny responsibility for damages that extend beyond the visible. Being able to pinpoint the source of oil when found in the bloodstream of a sick dolphin or devastated oyster bed will be very handy when attempting to bring oil companies to justice.

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Photo credit:SkyTruth on Flickr.

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104 comments

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9:04PM PDT on Aug 27, 2013

What's it going to take to make BP go away?

5:38AM PDT on Aug 19, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

5:28PM PDT on Aug 5, 2013

Key words from Ravenna's excellent post:

"In a statement released late Thursday, Halliburton said the Justice department "has agreed that it will not pursue further criminal prosecution of the company or its subsidiaries for any conduct relating to or arising out of the Macondo well incident."

In other words justice is never going to be served for this disaster of epic proportions. And to add insult to injury they continue to be allowed to run TV commercials claiming that it is all cleaned up and well, that the fisheries are back in business and thriving selling healthy fish and that the tourist trade is thriving. Such BS it literally stinks to high heaven yet they are allowed to tell these lies. No one has gone to prison yet nor will they ever for destroying an entire section of our planet, and the pittance of a fine they are being made to pay equals one of us paying out a nickel out of one of our paychecks. Dirty bastards at BP and Halliburton, and dirty bastards in our government who allow them to get away with it all, over and over and over.

4:27PM PDT on Aug 5, 2013

I am soooo done with oil companies. They are rude at best and are, in my mind, criminals. They belong in jail.

7:02AM PDT on Aug 5, 2013

disgusting, we need to pursue wholeheartedly different routes of energy!!!!!

10:45AM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

Satan is alive and well....and he is not letting up.

11:35PM PDT on Aug 3, 2013

The Buffoons strike again.

Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted as saying, “Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

3:31PM PDT on Aug 3, 2013

More evidence that big oil owns our government. After the Exxon Valdez, disaster, Exxon faced a large fine, but got a team of high priced lawyers to get the fine down to 200 million, a small amount considering the damage the disaster did to the environment which will take 50 years to recover. Halliburton got caught red handed destroying tapes used as evidence, because they wanted to escape possible blame, and yet only got fined 200,000. Clearly, our judges, lawyers, and justice departments are being paid big money to cover up and lie about the crimes big oil is getting away with.

2:23PM PDT on Aug 3, 2013

Is anyone surprised by this? I surely am not. Look at the environment where the Exxon Valdez disaster occurred. It has not fully recovered despite what Exxon claims.

Fossil fuels -- the poison that keeps killing and killing and killing ....

1:44PM PDT on Aug 3, 2013

Thank you for sharing this.

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