BP Fingerprints Found on Subsurface Oil in the Gulf

BP Fingerprints Found on Subsurface Oil in the Gulf

WASHINGTON, DC, June 8, 2010 (ENS) – Calling the BP oil spill “a human tragedy and an environmental disaster,” Dr. Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today confirmed the presence of low concentrations of subsurface oil from the spill in one location in the Gulf of Mexico.

She said “fingerprints” consistent with the BP oil spill were found on some of the subsurface oil, but not all of it is from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Researchers from NOAA and from the University of South Florida sampled water at depths ranging from the surface to 3,300 feet and at locations 40 and 42 nautical miles northeast of the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead, and also at another sampling station at 142 nautical miles southeast of the wellhead.

“Our analysis of the presence of subsurface oil determined that the concentrations of oil are in the range of less than 0.5 parts per million,” Lubchenco told reporters at a briefing in Washington, DC.

NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, an ocean ecologist by profession, discusses water sampling research with NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Dr. Eric Schwaab, left, and with Dr. Walter Ingram of the Southeast Fisheries Science Center Pascagoula Lab. (Photo courtesy NOAA)

Along with the analysis of the concentrations, NOAA has also been fingerprinting the oil to determine if it is from the Deepwater Horizon spill or some other oil that may emerge from from natural oil seeps on the seafloor.

“What we have found is that hydrocarbons in the surface samples taken 40 nautical miles northeast from the wellhead were indeed consistent with the BP’s oil spill,” Lubchenco said.

Hydrocarbons found in the samples 42 nautical miles northeast from the wellhead at the surface at 162 feet and 4,500 feet were in concentrations too low to do the actual fingerprinting, she said.

And hydrocarbons found in the samples 142 nautical miles southeast of the wellhead at 330 feet and 1,000 feet “were not consistent with the BP oil spill,” Lubchenco said.

“We have not concluded our comparison of the oils,” said biological oceanographer Ernst Peebles, University of South Florida’s lead scientific investigator on the R/V Weatherbird II trip. “Preliminary results show similarities at least at the surface.”

No dark-colored liquid oil was found at any location or depth. Oil was found in the form of weathered emulsified oil and in the form of invisible oil particles, not visible to the naked eye. Emulsified oil forms particles that have a brown or orange exterior and a chocolate-colored interior and are commonly called tarballs.

Several other NOAA research vessels either have just returned or will soon return from sampling and observation voyages and Lubchenco said NOAA would immediately share the results with the public as soon as they are in.

NOAA has deployed satellites in space, planes in the air, ships on the water, scientists on the ground and information online “so that the American people can see what we’re doing and understand the answers that we are getting,” the administrator said.

Near the spill site, the Gulf of Mexico is an oily brown. (Photo courtesy Gulf Restoration Network)

The ongoing oil spill began April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, leased by BP, had finished drilling, but not capping, a test well in the Gulf of Mexico 50 miles southeast of Louisiana. The rig suddenly exploded and burned for 36 hours before sinking, leaving the damaged wellhead spewing oil into the water.

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida, both Democrats, are demanding more video from BP.

Today, the two senators wrote to BP America Chairman Lamar McKay and asked that BP “provide full access to all video related to the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, including archived, current, and ongoing video records and that those records be made available for purposes of congressional oversight and for review by independent experts and the public.”

To date, the senators said, BP has made available only selected excerpts from the video records of the spill to investigators estimating the amount of oil and gas gushing from the blowout on the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico.

Today, in response to a specific request from Senator Boxer, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that she chairs received 12 minutes of high-resolution video of the oil gushing from the well on June 3, after the riser pipe was cut off but before installation of the containment cap.

“For an independent assessment of the flow rate, scientists and other experts need unfiltered access to all data and video records, including a complete searchable record of all video files,” the senators wrote today.

“BP must not hinder the investigation of this matter by making available only pre-selected data and/or video for review as we understand has generally been the case to date. If BP delays provision of these videos or only makes available samples of video, the ability of the outside experts to provide truly independent information is undermined.”

An image captured from live streaming BP video taken by the camera on a remotely operated vehicle trained on the damaged wellhead (Image courtesy BP)

National Incident Commander U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen told reporters today, “All of the video that we have needed and asked from BP we have got and we’ve released.”

Dr. Lubchenco said, “There were problems early on and we have directed BP to give us everything that they have. And that has been forthcoming.”

Admiral Allen said today that in a continuing effort to determine how much oil has been spilled in total, he has asked the Unified Command’s flow rate team, empanelled under Dr. Marcia McNutt of the U.S. Geological Survey, to do “a revised total flow rate.”

The team’s initial estimate, released in late May, was based on three different methods of determining the rate at which the oil is flowing from the broken wellhead.

The team calculated that oil could be flowing at the rate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day or at a higher rate, 12,000 to 25,000 barrels per day.

“We need that for two reasons,” Admiral Allen said. “We need to assess the outflow for the overall amount of oil that’s been discharged for the purpose of assessing the environmental impact and the natural resources damage assessment – overall long term. But also we need to understand the rate of flow versus how much we’re taking out in terms of production to be able to establish a total count what I would call the oil pledges that we’re dealing with.”

Pelicans stained black with BP oil found at Grande Isle, Louisiana, June 7, 2010. (Photo courtesy Tri State Bird Rescue and Research team)

As part of its commitment to restore the environment and habitats in the Gulf Coast region, BP today announced that it will donate the net revenue from oil recovered from the Deepwater Horizon spill to create a new wildlife fund to create, restore, improve and protect wildlife habitat along the coastline of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

Creation of this fund is over and above the company’s obligations under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

BP’s net revenue from the sale of oil recovered from skimming operations and the well containment systems will be deposited into this new fund.

At this point, BP cannot predict the total of amount of net revenue that will be deposited into the wildlife fund. The amount of funding will be contingent upon the amount of oil collected during operations and the price at which the oil is sold. BP will provide regular updates on the amount of proceeds being deposited into the fund.

“We’ve already launched the largest environmental response in history, and BP is committed to protecting the ecosystems and wildlife on the Gulf Coast. Proceeds from the sale of oil recovered from the MC252 well will be used to further this commitment,” said BP’s chief executive officer Tony Hayward. “We believe these funds will have a significant positive impact on the environment in this region.”

On May 24, BP announced a commitment of up to $500 million for an open research program studying the impact of the Deepwater Horizon incident, and the response to the spill, on the marine and shoreline environment of the Gulf of Mexico.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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