Re: U.S. Finds Most Oil From Spill Poses Little Additional Risk, in today's New York Times.
So 76% of the oil from the BP Gulf gusher has "disappeared". If the government is serious, it must mean "disappeared from immediate concern". Because oil doesn't disappear. That would be magic.
A large portion has evaporated. That puts it into the air - yet another pollutant in our air environment. A portion has been burned off - again, another pollutant in our air environment. This stuff will float around until it settles someplace - in the soil, in trees, ... Or, some will be eaten by microorganisms, which suck up some oxygen to do so.
Some has been skimmed from the surface by ships. Where has that oil been put?
Some has been captured by booms, nets, towels, and whatever. Again, where has that oil been put?
About 17% has been captured and hoisted into container ships. Presumably, this stuff will be processed the same as if it had come from a clean well.
A portion has dissolved (not sure what that means, since oil does not mix with water). Again, no magic. It still exists, in an altered form, in the water, the toxic effects to water creatures and their eggs not known.
Another portion has been dispersed into tiny drops by the chemical dispersants. Yet again, no magic. It still exists, in an altered form, in the water, the toxic effects to water creatures and their eggs not known. Add the unknown effect of the dispersant chemicals themselves, and we have a large unknown in the water.
Dissolved and dispersed oil will be broken down by microorganisms, which remove oxygen from the water to do so. Anyone know what the long-term effects are there?
Underwater life is bound to be affected. Creatures that unintentionally eat contaminated creatures may pass on the contamination in a long food chain, ultimately landing on your dinner table. Eggs may be coated with oil - whether it's a "sheen" or dissolved or dispersed varieties, and they may or may not survive to become adults. Coral reefs are fragile and may be severely damaged if not killed completely.
The government report says the remaining 26% "is on or just below the surface as light sheen or weathered tar balls, has washed ashore or been collected from the shore, or is buried in sand and sediments". It admits these could cause problems, but it seems to be downplaying the seriousness. Certainly, tar balls are easier to deal with, if you can find them, and if they are not buried for later storms to dig up. The stuff that is washed ashore is there, probably not going any further - until a storm churns it all up again.
Not wanting to be a doomsayer, not wanting to continue beating BP with a stick, not wanting to see the economic hole this has caused in the Gulf, and most of all not wanting to get into a pissing match with the "let's open it up for drilling again" crowd, I do believe this report is overly optimistic about the long-term effects of this disaster. A large portion of it may be under control now (and maybe that's what the government is really saying), but I don't see that we know enough about it to know with any kind of certainty. Largest spill in water in history. The largest use of dispersants in history. These oft-used slogans, and others, imply we have very little history to rely on for our judgment of current and future consequences.
All in all, I see that only the 17% that has been captured will not be a problem. The other 83% still exists in the wrong place in our environment in some form or other, and we don't know a heck of a lot about the consequences of that 83%.
- Lone Coyote Calls