Latest update: 05/08/2010
Scientists cautious after report says Gulf spill is 'contained'
A US government-sponsored study has estimated that some 74 percent of the BP oil spill has been dealt with and that the Gulf of Mexico shoreline has been spared the worst of a possible ecological disaster.
The Gulf of Mexico has dodged the worst effects of the oil slick from the BP oil spill, according to a government report released on Wednesday.
The report, compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), says that three quarters of the oil “has evaporated or been otherwise contained”.
The spill from BP’s Macondo well, part of the Deepwater Horzon drilling platform that exploded in April, has receded to the point that skimming vessels are having trouble finding any oil to remove from the water.
The study estimates that one quarter has “evaporated or dissolved” while 16 percent has “naturally dispersed”. One third of the total spill has been removed by human effort, including skimming, use of chemical dispersants and burning and direct recovery from the water above the well, according to the report.
The remaining 26 percent “includes oil that is on or just below the surface as light sheen and weathered tar balls, has washed ashore … or is buried in sand and sediments.”
Scientists, however, are concerned that this 26 percent could continue to pose unknown risks to the future of the Gulf coast’s shoreline.
Caution and optimism
The report was welcomed by Washington while scientists remained cautious about the fate of the remaining quarter, which is still nearly five times the volume of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989.
“I think it is fairly safe to say … that many of the doomsday scenarios that we talked about and repeated a lot have not and will not come to fruition,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Wednesday.
While welcoming the news, scientists were careful to point out that the relatively short report gave an oversimplified explanation of an extremely complex situation.
“This is just way too neat,'' Larry McKinney, director of the Texas A&M University research centre on the Gulf of Mexico told AP. “How can you even do this at this point? There's a lot of oil still floating out there.''
McKinney said he was most concerned that the report could cost the US government - and save BP - billions of dollars in the damage assessment process.
Meanwhile, BP said on Wednesday that it’s “static kill” strategy for sealing the leaking well had gone ahead successfully, more than 15 weeks after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and oil began gushing into the sea.
The procedure involved pumping heavy drilling fluid into the broken well for eight hours, forcing the oil back down into its reservoir, miles blow the seabed.
On Thursday BP will cement over the broken well, before completing a relief well that BP hopes will seal the leak permanently.
While the long-term impact of the leak remains unknown, the White House insisted that BP would remain accountable to the cost of sorting out any future environmental and economic impact from the spill.
White House energy adviser Carol Browner said: “We are going to continue to ensure BP is held accountable for damage they did.''