Undersea oil plumes mean slow-motion death in Gulf: experts

Jun 04, 2010 by Karin Zeitvogel and Caroline Groussain

US scientists have charted vast oil plumes from the gushing BP well beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, and warn that the impact of the "invisible" undersea oil may be felt for years.

"The public is seeing just a small fraction of what is taking place out there. Most of the oil is under the surface," Larry Schweiger, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation, told AFP.

Schweiger had just returned from a 10-hour boat trip to the area near where the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig sank to the bottom of the Gulf in April, rupturing a riser pipe on an underwater well which has been spewing crude into the sea ever since.

Scientists on the vessel sent down a deep-water diving camera that records what is happening under the water, said Schweiger.

The images they saw looked "almost like an oil and vinegar mixture -- just like you have in a salad dressing with oil bubbles," said Schweiger.

"That's what it looks like under the Gulf where the water has been contaminated... We're looking at an area of around 150 miles that's contaminated with this sub-surface oil," Schweiger said, warning that the oil "will not go away tomorrow or anytime soon."

The area hit by the spill provides the United States with half its shrimp and oysters, more than a third of its blue crab, and a quarter of all its fin fish, said Schweiger.

"We have contaminated our seafood basket," said Schweiger.

At least four research groups from different US universities have reported finding massive plumes deep beneath the surface of the Gulf.

Researchers from the University of South Florida reported that they found "a wide area with elevated levels of dissolved hydrocarbons throughout the water column, possibly indicating that a limb of an undersea oil plume has spread northeast toward the ."

University of Georgia marine scientists reported two weeks ago finding deepwater plumes thousands of feet below the surface in the .

The other two universities that have reported finding plumes are Louisiana State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

But after the scientists went public with what they have found under the sea, BP chief executive Tony Hayward said that studies carried out by the British oil company found "no evidence" of underwater plumes of oil.

BP has sprayed nearly one million gallons of dispersant on the spill, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said Thursday.

Steven Pedigo, head of Oil Spill Eater International, which manufactures a product that has been used to clean up thousands of oil spills in 20 countries, without dispersing the oil, told AFP that dispersants "sink the oil into the water column."

"Saying there is no evidence of plumes when you're using dispersant is disingenuous," Pedigo said.

Fish scientist Prosanta Chakrabarty called the BP boss's statement "a disgrace."

"They haven't offered any evidence to counter what at least four independent teams of university researchers have found, and when you look at the difference between what BP said was coming out of the well in the beginning and what really is coming out, you have to question them," he said.

Chakrabarty warned that the oil and dispersant mix that is lurking below the surface of the Gulf could wipe out dozens of species of fish, including two different species of pancake batfish which he discovered six months ago.

"Currently there are no reports about massive fish kills being sighted, but I'm afraid that a lot of damage is being done below the surface where the majority of oil is," he said.

Schweiger said that, with most of the oil hiding deep beneath the sea, "This is much more of a chronic problem than it is dramatic."

"It's a different kind of problem because of the way the has been dispersed.

"This is going to be a slow-motion play-out over months and years and will have enormous impact on fisheries and on bird life and on all the things we care about in this region," he said.

Explore further: Scientists see bleached coral in northwest Hawaii

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

BP relaunches subsea dispersant operations

May 11, 2010

BP restarted Monday operations to stream dispersants directly into the main Gulf of Mexico oil leak despite fears the chemicals could themselves be harmful to the environment.

Underwater oil could create new 'dead zone' in Gulf

May 18, 2010

Giant plumes of oil drifting deep in the Gulf of Mexico could create a new 'dead zone' of oxygen-depleted waters unfit for marine life and wreak environmental damage that will take generations to overcome, ...

BP warns of long effort to cap spill

Jun 01, 2010

BP officials warned they may not be able to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil leak until August, as Louisiana residents warned the spill could wipe out dozens of fish species.

Recommended for you

Rating the planet's oceans

15 hours ago

The most comprehensive assessment conducted by the Ocean Health Index rates the Earth's oceans at 67 out of 100 in overall health. In addition, for the first time, the report assessed the Antarctic and the ...

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

baudrunner
3 / 5 (3) Jun 04, 2010
The lesson here is, don't let foreigners play in your backyard. They don't care what happens to your garden.

BP should be dragged across the coals for this. This disaster could almost be construed as an act of war. This type of irresponsibility and negligence and then high-fallooting it with statements that are essentially cover-up lies from a country that invented the World Wildlife Fund, but expects common working class people to fund it with donations while the ruling elite still eat monkey brains... something's not right.
Bookbinder
5 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2010
Deep beneath the sea is exactly where BP wants it. Out of site, out of mind. BP continues to address this as a PR problem rather than as a biological problem. But it will wash up on Gulf and Gulf Stream beaches for the next 30 years and these chickens may even come home to roost in southern England. The Gulf is becoming the New World's own Dead Sea. I Christen thee "The Reagan Oil Disaster" as it is a result of the deregulation fervor he promoted.
Honor
5 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2010
breaks my heart.
zevkirsh
5 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2010
the ixtoc spill created by mexico in the late 70's ran for 10 months before being capped and spewed a heck of lot of oil. remember?
Jimee
1 / 5 (1) Jun 05, 2010
Reagan, Bush, Bush: They have suckered us down the path to oligarchy and poison.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Jun 05, 2010
Reagan, Bush, Bush: They have suckered us down the path to oligarchy and poison.

Forgetting a few Presidents, aren't we?