The Federal Government and BP executives have repeatedly stated that a cleanup scale back is warranted now that only 25% of the oil spill remains in the Gulf of Mexico. What the Company failed to tell the American public is that they intend to leave a large souvenir behind for years to come at the ocean floor and it is ours to keep.
The vast majority of the oil spill, 206 million barrels in total, has been dispersed by Corexit and forced downwards to settle at the bottom of the ocean awaiting some sort of “natural” clean up by bacteria.
Recently completed studies by scientific teams of the University of Georgia and the University of South Florida show that large amounts of oil have settled at several locations east of the Macondo well and close to the Panama Beach location in Florida.
The rational explanation for oil molecules to sink to the ocean floor is the chemical reaction between the active component of Corexit, 2-butanol-ethylene, and oil which breaks down the oil spill on the water surface into smaller particles so they sink and “disappear”.
The toxic waste at the ocean floor impacts the natural habitat and the cornerstone of the natural food chain as it kills the phyto plankton. The second impact is that the natural bacteria that biodegrade oil residues are large users of oxygen in the water which they need to perform their function.
This may result in a large and temporary depletion of oxygen levels in deep waters which in turn are essential to small marine life.
This is the souvenir that BP is leaving behind in the Gulf of Mexico for years to come.
Out of sight does not constitute out of mind or gone forever. On the contrary, now that the toxic waste was forced to the ocean floor, cleanup crews or scientists do not have an easily available solution to clean up and remove it.
The one expensive solution available is to create a small cave underneath the mass of oil and vacuum the polymers down under minimal suction to then cover them up for natural biodegradation.
Such techniques are expensive and time consuming, but they are also more complicated in comparison with skimming, booming or burning the water surface. The polymers form an elastic strand that can be disposed of carefully. The risk associated with these techniques is that when too much suction is applied the strands break and curl back up, meaning a complete failure and the need to start over the entire process.
The other danger that lurks is that the toxic waste will move naturally with the undercurrent because the oil spill is not a static problem at all. It is a moving target that for the time being seems to move eastwards and away from the Macondo well.
That is not good news for the east coast of Florida and it may endanger the natural spawning grounds of our migratory fish and mammals.
The surface of the Gulf and the beaches may look cleaner in some locations, but the real problem is now buried underneath where only scientific diving teams and researchers can find it and try to resolve it.
Written by Nick Doms © 2010, all rights reserved