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Gulf of Mexico bottom still coated in oil, recovery long way off

Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia has seen the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and the view wasn’t pretty. Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Joye told the conference that she found places where oil lay on the Gulf floor nearly 4 inches (10 centimeters) thick. Joye’s findings contradict rosier pictures of the overall damage caused by the 2010 BP oil spill, including a recent statement by Kenneth Feinberg, the US government czar for oil compensation, that the Gulf would largely recover by next year.

Employing a deep-diving submersible dubbed Alvin, Joye undertook five expeditions over 2,600 square miles of the Gulf’s floor. She used chemical analysis to identify that the oil on the floor was indeed from the BP Macondo well that blew out last April. Having studied many of the locations before, Joye said the oil spill had a noticeable impact.

“Filter-feeding organisms, invertebrate worms, corals, sea fans—all of those were substantially impacted—and by impacted, I mean essentially killed,” she told the BBC. She took photos and video of and the oil-choked bodies of marine life, such as crabs, corals, brittle stars, and tube-worms. Instead of the Gulf recovering by 2012, Joye told the BBC, it will probably take that long to really understand the full impact of the spill, including on important fisheries in the region, as fish are ecologically dependent on many benthic species.

According to Joye only about 10% of the oil was consumed by microbes, complicating the narrative that microbes had consumed most of the oil already.

“There’s some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn’t seem to be degrading,” Joye told the conference as reported by the AP.

BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20th, 2010, sending some 4.9 million barrels of oil and up to 500,000 tons of methane into the Gulf of Mexico over three months.

The US consumes more oil than any other country in the world. In 2007 the US consumed over 20 million barrels of oil everyday: nearly three times as much as the number two consumer, China. For decades the US has focused on producing more oil, instead of increasing efficiency or lowering consumption.

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