Thursday, 3 March 2011

Deep Water Horizon- the aftermath may remain unknown for a decade

In places the layer of oil and dead animals is 10cm thick

                                         DWH oil slick as seen from space, NASA satellite.

Marine scientists from the University of Georgia say that last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill has "devastated" life on and near the seafloor after they found a layer of dead animals and oil 10 cm thick in some places. Professor Samantha Joye from the University said that fishing will be affected much longer than BP estimates; the company’s $20 billion Compensation Fund has said that the Gulf of Mexico would ‘recover’ by the end of 2012. Scientists fear that the impact of marine life being taken out of the food chain will have far reaching- even unknown- consequences. Professor Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington that it may be a decade before the full effects on the Gulf are apparent.

In separate developments, the US State of Montana is suing BP and its subsidiaries, alleging that they received “millions of dollars” from insurance companies to clean up contaminated soil and groundwater, but hid the money so the State paid for the cleanup and associated costs. In addition, Montana says, "Over the course of a number of years, the defendants engaged in a number of carefully contrived, deceptive and fraudulent schemes to obtain recovery of funds and avoid responsibility for clean-up and remediation of the environmental pollution caused by their leaking PSTS (petroleum storage tank systems) at their formerly and current owned, operated, leased and supplied facilities." Terry Wadsworth of the State’s petroleum compensation board said that they have been investigating BP for years; they didn’t want to sue the company, but it "didn't appear amenable to discussions."

Georgia University’s team used a submersible to explore the bottom-most layer of the water around the wellhead, known as the benthos. "The impact on the benthos was devastating," Joye told BBC News. "Filter-feeding organisms, invertebrate worms, corals, sea fans - all of those were substantially impacted - and by impacted, I mean essentially killed. Another critical point is that detrital feeders like sea cucumbers, brittle stars that wander around the bottom, I didn't see a living (sea cucumber) around on any of the wellhead dives. They're typically everywhere, and we saw none." Scientists know that sea floor organisms oxygenate the layers down below; these, in turn, support fish and other species near the surface of the ocean. The destruction of the bathos will then obviously be a long-term major blow for aquatic life and the fishing industry, they fear.

Professor Joye points out that the fact that the herring industry would be destroyed after the Exxon Valdez spill was not known for many years. She says, "The Gulf is resilient. I do believe that it will recover from this insult, but I don't think it's going to recover fully by 2012. I think it's going to be 2012 before we begin to really see the fisheries implications and repercussions from this."

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