Yesterday, NOAA released a report and press release claiming that “the vast majority of oil from the BP oil spill has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered from the wellhead, or dispersed.”
Sounds good doesn’t it? Unfortunately, you could also summarize the findings of the report this way:
Up to 50% of Oil from BP Drilling Disaster Remains Unaccounted For
In their press release, NOAA lumps together the amount of oil that has been dispersed with other categories like evaporated, skimmed, or burned oil. Unlike these other categories, natural and chemical dispersion does not actually remove oil from the ocean. Instead, it causes oil to form into smaller globules and sink into the water column, where theoretically bacteria can more easily consume the oil. Some of that dispersed oil does get consumed by bacteria, but it remains to be seen how much is still out there impacting deepwater corals and other marine life.
According to NOAA’s estimates, 26% of the oil remains in the Gulf as “residual oil,” while another 24% percent has been chemically or naturally dispersed. All in all, that leaves up to 50% of BP’s oil still out in the Gulf and on our beaches.