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This October 2010 photo provided by Penn State University shows the arms of a brittle starfish, red in color, clinging to coral damaged by the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico.
Credit: AP Photo/NOAA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Scientists have discovered yet another unforeseen effect of BP’s historic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico: a 1,235-square-mile “bathub ring” of oil on the deep ocean’s floor.
Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on Monday showed that approximately 10 million gallons of oil settled and coagulated on the floor of the Gulf near the Deepwater Horizon rig, which spilled a total of 172 million gallons of oil into the ocean in April 2010. That oil left a footprint on the ocean floor about two times the size of the city of Houston, Texas, and approximately the size of the state of Rhode Island, the study said.
Study author David Valentine told the Associated Press that tests to determine the oil’s chemical signature were not performed because the oil has degraded in the four and a half years since the spill occurred, but also said it’s obvious where the oil is from, since it settled directly around the site of the damaged rig. BP disputes the claim, telling Fuel Fix that the researchers need to chemically identify the source of the oil before they can credibly blame the company.
Still, the research serves to try and answer some of the lingering questions from the 2010 oil spill, the largest in U.S. history. One of those questions is where all the oil went — approximately 2 million barrels were never found — and another is how the spill impacted the health of the deep sea. In July, a scientist who led a study on the impacts of the BP spill and found a wider range of impact on the deep sea than previously believed, told ThinkProgress that he was worried about how much we don’t yet know.
“What we still don’t know, and what we need to all keep in mind, is that there’s the potential for sub-acute impact,” Penn State University’s Charles Fisher said at the time. “In other words, things that might have happened to corals’ reproductive system — slower acting cancers, changes in the fitness of the animal. These are very hard to detect and they’ll take a long time for us to see what’s going on.”
BP has maintained that most of the unrecovered light sweet crude oil dissolved or evaporated before it reached land, and that it didn’t settle on the ocean floor. Indeed, just last week, Politico published an article written by BP senior vice president of communications Geoff Morrell titled “No, BP Didn’t Ruin The Gulf.” The article argued that the Gulf of Mexico has “inherent resilience” when it comes to oil spills and that environmentalists are overreacting about its impacts.
On Monday, Politico ran a response to that article, titled “Yes, BP Did Damage The Gulf.” The article, written by the Ocean Conservency’s Gulf Restoration director Kara Lankford, slammed BP for attempting to downplay the effects of the spill on the Gulf’s ecosystem.
“We would like to invite Geoff Morrell to sit down with us to discuss the scientific evidence of impacts from the BP oil disaster, as it seems he may be unaware of some important research,” Lankford wrote. “We look forward to the Gulf’s full restoration and hope BP will accept accountability for the spill — and will acknowledge the complete scientific evidence of the impact, not a few carefully selected data points.”
By Emily Atkin
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Joe Romm is a Fellow at American Progress and is the editor of Climate Progress, which New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called "the indispensable…