“Bathtub Mat” of BP Oil Remains on Ocean Floor

Oil in the gulf June 2010
BP's oil in the Gulf, June 2010

Oceanographer Jeff Chanton and his team at Florida State University recently conducted a study that found that 6-10 million gallons of oil from the BP disaster are coating the sea floor. 

From a sample area of 9,266 square miles, Chanton and his nine-member research team took 62 sediment cores and tested them for oil by checking for the presence of radioactive isotope carbon-14. Most sediment does contain carbon-14, so Chanton reasoned that sediment samples without carbon-14 indicate that oil is present. Working with Florida State Geography Professor Tingting Zhao, Chanton determined that 3,243 square miles of the Gulf floor remains covered in oil. The buried oil in the sand will likely lead to further damage in the future as, Chanton says, it is unlikely to decompose quickly.  

The damage that the oil's continued presence will have on the Gulf's ecosystem cannot be fully determined because effects will be long-term and recurring. “This is going to affect the Gulf for years to come,” Chanton said in a statement. “Fish will likely ingest contaminants because worms ingest the sediment, and fish eat the worms. It’s a conduit for contamination into the food web.”

The release of the damning study came just a month before the third phase of BP's trial, which began last month and ended on Monday, February 2nd. As expected, BP executives and witnesses were pushing to minimize BP’s punishment for the disaster. They argued that the Gulf coast has been restored and damages to the ecosystem were far less than expected, largely due to their own clean-up and restoration efforts. Laura Waters Folse, executive vice president of response and environmental restoration with the BP Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, testified that the data BP has collected suggests the majority of buried oil has been removed. “I personally have no concern about oil washing in from offshore to the shoreline.” 

Chanton's results, along with a study conducted last fall by geochemists at UC-Santa Barbara, contradict Folse’s claims. Millions and millions of gallons of oil remain, waiting to be removed while BP focuses instead on minimizing its financial punishment for this man-made disaster caused by the company’s own negligence and misconduct. 

Chanton's study reinforces what we’ve already long known: BP’s oil is still here and still impacting the Gulf’s communities and wildlife. It’s time for BP to take responsibility for their actions – click here to tell BP to come clean.   

To read Jeff Chanton's full findings, visit here.  

Lily Elkins is a Media and Communications Intern with GRN. 

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