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Gulf Oil Spill: University Study Contradicts Government Estimates, Up To 79% Of Oil Could Remain

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A group of scientists say that most of that BP oil the government claimed was gone from the Gulf of Mexico is actually still there.

The scientists believe that roughly three-quarters of the oil (70% to 79%) still lurks under the surface. The research team, affiliated with the University of Georgia, said that it is a misinterpretation of data to claim that oil that has dissolved is actually gone or harmless. The report was based on an analysis of federal estimates, but the Wall Street Journal notes that it hasn't been published or peer-reviewed yet.

Charles Hopkinson, who helped lead the investigation, claims "the oil is still out there, and it will likely take years to completely degrade." The UGA marine sciences professor, and director of the Georgia Sea Grant, added, "We are still far from a complete understanding of what its impacts are."

Earlier this month, federal scientists said that only about a quarter of the oil remained and the rest was either removed, dissolved or dispersed.

Whether a glass is one-quarter full or one-quarter empty isn't exactly a matter of perspective. Why the discrepancy? According to a news release from UGA:

Hopkinson notes that the reports arrive at different conclusions largely because the Sea Grant and UGA scientists estimate that the vast majority of the oil classified as dispersed, dissolved or residual is still present, whereas the NIC report has been interpreted to suggest that only the "residual" form of oil is still present.



Hopkinson said that his group also estimated how much of the oil could have evaporated, degraded or weathered as of the date of the report. Using a range of reasonable evaporation and degradation estimates, the group calculated that 70-79 percent of oil spilled into the Gulf still remains. The group showed that it was impossible for all the dissolved oil to have evaporated because only oil at the surface of the ocean can evaporate into the atmosphere and large plumes of oil are trapped in deep water.

While both reports are optimistic that the oil will continue to break down, neither accounts for hydrocarbon gasses like methane. "That's a gaping hole [in the reports]," admitted one of the researchers.

Click here for the full UGA report (PDF).

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