Estimates on oil spill blasted

A top scientist contradicted US government claims that most of the oil that flooded into the Gulf of Mexico from BP's busted well has degraded, insisting that more than half remains.

Much of the spilled oil was dispersed, evaporated or removed by burning and skimming, but the "remaining fraction over 50% of the total discharge is a highly durable material that resists further dissipation," Oceanographer Ian MacDonald told a presidential panel looking into the spill.

"Much of it is now buried in marine and coastal sediments," MacDonald told the bipartisan panel, but added that there is "scant evidence for bacterial degradation of this material prior to burial."

His assessment implied that some 2.5 million barrels of oil was still embedded in the fragile ecosystem, out of the estimated 4.9 million barrels that gushed into the Gulf.

Conflicting analysis

The analysis from Macdonald, a leading scientist on the Gulf marine environment at Florida State University, stands in contrast to statistics released by US officials in early August 2010, which said about 75% of the oil spilled from the ruptured BP well had disappeared.

At that time, Carol Browner, a top energy adviser to President Barack Obama, said the government's report was "encouraging" and, referring to the remaining oil, said: "Mother nature will continue to break it down."

Earlier this month, officials declared the broken well to be finally capped, five months after the 20 April 2010 explosion on BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that kicked off the spill. In its wake, hundreds of miles of Gulf coastline were sullied, killing wildlife and choking tourism and fishing industries.

(Sapa, September 2010)

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