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Surprise! Oil Companies Vastly Underreport Size of Oil Spills

Science & Tech  (tags: conservation, destruction, ecosystems, energy, environment, nature, oceans, protection, research, science, world, water, investigation, scientists, technology, study )

- 1939 days ago -
Oil slicks are much larger in the Gulf of Mexico than previously thought.

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JL A (281)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 11:27 am

Surprise! Oil Companies Vastly Underreport Size of Oil Spills
Oil slicks are much larger in the Gulf of Mexico than previously thought.
By Alison Fairbrother
January 31, 2013
Surprise! Oil Companies Vastly Underreport Size of Oil Spills

Oiled and dead marsh grass due to the BP oil spill mixes with new growth along the banks of Barataria Bay near Myrtle Grove, Louisiana on March 31, 2011. BP's well leaked more than four million barrels of oil. (Photo: Sean Gardner/Reuters)

In November 2012, BP agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines and plead guilty to criminal charges related to the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster. As part of their plea agreement, company executives admitted they had misled Congress and the American public by providing false information about the extent of the oil spill.

BP fudged the numbers in a big way, which left some researchers wondering how accurately “minor” oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico were being reported by the dozens of other companies with leases to drill.

Oceanographers at Florida State University (FSU) teamed up with SkyTruth, a West Virginia nonprofit that uses satellite images to track environmental pollution, to assess whether “minor” oil spills were being minimized in official documentation.

FSU graduate student Samira Daneshgar Asl analyzed 67 satellite images and found that manmade slicks were as much as 13 times larger than the estimates reported by oil companies to the National Response Center, the branch of the U.S. Coast Guard that collects information on oil and chemical spills in U.S. waters.
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The results were presented last week at the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference in New Orleans, at a presentation originally reported on by Nature.

“There were one or two cases where we saw less oil than what was reported. But in most other cases, we saw longer slicks, larger areas, and greater volumes than what was reported, usually by a factor of 10 or more,” Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University, told TakePart.

MacDonald and his collaborator John Amos, president of SkyTruth, have a background in using satellite images to detect small oil slicks caused by natural seeps in the ocean floor. They soon realized that you could use the same technology to detect human-caused oil spills. “Satellite imagery became a critically important tool to determine that the oil spill was 20 to 25 times larger than BP was saying it was in the first week of the spill,” Amos said in an interview with TakePart.

Until the BP oil disaster, reports by the federal government showed that there were more natural seeps in the Gulf of Mexico than there were manmade spills. “Pro-drilling politicians and oil industry spokespeople could say, ‘nature pollutes the Gulf more than we do,’ ” Amos told TakePart. “But the main source of information available were pollution reports submitted by the polluters themselves.”
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Following the BP oil disaster, Amos and MacDonald turned their attention to the dozens of other companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico. The discrepancies were significant.

The next step, Ian MacDonald told TakePart, is to publish the data in a peer-reviewed journal so that it can be established as part of the scientific record. MacDonald and his team plan to use the published study to advocate for the expanded use of satellite surveillance of the Gulf of Mexico. “It demonstrates that [satellite images] can be used as a component of coastal monitoring and in some ways it’s more accurate and sensitive than relying on user observations,” he said.

The researchers believe that independent monitoring is an essential component of increasing transparency and accountability in the management of our nation’s natural resources.

“It may not be so easy to dismiss the cumulative environmental impact of offshore oil and gas development when we’ve demonstrated that we don’t really accurately know how much pollution goes along with that development,” Amos said. “Right now the public is totally in the dark, relying on the polluters themselves. That is totally unacceptable.”

Related Stories on TakePart:

• Are We Prepared to Accept the Risks of a Four-Degree Warming?

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• Op-Ed: Expanding on the Moral Logic of Climate Communication

Alison Fairbrother is the director of the nonpartisan Public Trust Project, which investigates and reports on misrepresentations of science by corporations and government. She has written for the Washington Monthly, the Washington Spectator, Grist, and Politics Daily, among others. Alison is based in Washington DC.

Angelika R (143)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 11:46 am
To me that is NO SURPRISE at all! We should have all learned by now that we're permanently being lied to!

. (0)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 11:51 am
Shame on Obama for allowing BP to get away with environmental murder.

JL A (281)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 12:06 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Angelika because you have done so within the last week. It seems that the courts are the ones who permitted it Allan, not POTUS.

mag.w.d. Aichberger (34)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 12:25 pm
> Oil Companies Vastly Underreport Size of Oil Spills
hur hur hur. 'tis nearly as surprisin' as, e.g., da rich wanting to get richer or politicians not exactly fulfilling every promise they made.

Roger G (154)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 12:41 pm
noted, thanks !

Beverly T (82)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 2:07 pm
I walk the beaches here where I live..well...I used to.
It depresses me to do so now.
All the birds, small fish in waves and other living things that used to make such a walk interesting and fun have just about completely disappeared. Even the LACK of shells to be found tells me volumns.
Most of the people on the beach have no clue, they know nothing else but at my age...I REMEMBER.
Oh, I stll go every once in awhile just to "get away" (?) from town but...
It also BREAKS my heart.

David C (131)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 2:46 pm
just one more reason why every day I send a letter or email every day to The President asking if he really wants to lead on climate change and environment --- No Keystone XL, No Arctic Drilling, No Gulf Drilling......

I hope no one is surprised by this....if they are, I am sure I could find some valuable objects to sell them, too...

Theodore Shayne (56)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 3:02 pm
Prevaricators of the first water all of them.

greenplanet e (155)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 3:41 pm
Oil does so much damage -- from its extraction, shipping, to its burning and releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Kit B (276)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 3:45 pm

No kidding - for the best information on state of oil spills and the money made by allowing the oil spills read:
"Vultures Picnic" by Greg Palast. Now that is some deep investigative journalism.

Mitchell D (87)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 3:52 pm
Wow, what a ###&&** surprise!
In third world countries, that have no clout, they don't even bother reporting.

JL A (281)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 5:35 pm
Great comments! You are welcome Roger!
Green stars sent where I could but:
You cannot currently send a star to FRACK because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to Dave because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to greenplanet because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to Mitchell because you have done so within the last week.

John B (185)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 5:37 pm
Thanks J.L. for the post. I'd be surprised if any one was surprised by this. Read and noted.

Terry V (30)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 6:14 pm
Not surprised at all.

4 Degrees Warmer

JL A (281)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 6:22 pm
Thanks for posting the link to the relevant video Terry!You cannot currently send a star to Terry because you have done so within the last week.

Past Member (0)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 6:57 pm
The oil companies do not give a damn about the environment, they could care less if there is a spill, otherwise they would be more vigilant., Thanks JLA

Lin Penrose (92)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 8:34 pm
Thanks J.L. Noted & read. Wonder if all parties concerned with that particular oil spill told the "truth & nothing but the truth" would have paid more in fines, or Truly considered going with environmentally friendly energy sources and spending the monies logically there, if given the choice? Though I'm not sure choices were an option when the "guilty as charged" were found. Money spent on restoration is bogus and a fantasy they want us and themselves to believe. You can't restore destroyed eco-systems, all the lives and potentials lost, only change them, often for the worse. Lies have future consequences to those who lie, and they are usually not good. Unfortunately, so many other innocents must bear them also.

Giana Peranio-paz (398)
Sunday February 3, 2013, 11:19 pm
No surprise at all! The fines are so high! As an employee in a large shipping company, I am aware of the worst claims against shipping companies whose vessels pollute the sea, in all types of events! The stakes are so high they rather not report the spills but if they get caught, wow do they get punished for leaving the scene and not reporting it!

Patricia N (9)
Monday February 4, 2013, 1:49 am
Does not surprise me one bit. If all oil spills and pollution were on the front pages of newspapers and on the nightly tv news with the damage done......maybe people would be shocked into action.

JL A (281)
Monday February 4, 2013, 8:22 am
You cannot currently send a star to Patricia because you have done so within the last week.

Melania P (122)
Monday February 4, 2013, 10:12 am
No surprised!

JL A (281)
Monday February 4, 2013, 3:13 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Melania because you have done so within the last week.
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