June 9, 2010

Oil Confirmed 40 Nautical Miles From Spill Site

An analysis conducted by scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has confirmed that oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill has now reached a distance of more than 40 nautical miles from the original leak, and has been found at a depth of 3,300 feet, the AFP news agency reported Tuesday.

The agency's report provides evidence that large quantities of oil have spread not just along the ocean's surface, but at great depths as well, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

"NOAA is confirming the presence of very low concentrations of subsurface oil at sampling depths ranging from the surface to 3,300 feet at locations 40 to 42 nautical miles northeast of the well site," said NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco during a news conference.

The analysis, which was conducted by NOAA and experts at the University of South Florida, excludes the possibility that the oil could have come from any source other than the BP leak.

"The test results confirm that there is oil subsurface. We've always suspected that, but it's good to have confirmation," the NOAA chief said.

Massive oil "plumes" suspended in the Gulf waters would greatly complicate efforts to clean up the spill.  Indeed, such plumes are virtually impossible to clean up, and could deplete oxygen in the Gulf, which would devastate sea life, the scientists said.

Millions of gallons of crude have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20th explosion on the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig just off the Louisiana coast.

NOAA scientists are working to create "a three-dimensional puzzle, so that we can have a better sense of what's where, in what amounts, and what impact it's having," Lubchenco said.

"We've been tracking where the oil is going at the surface and where it is going below the surface," Lubchenco said.

Some oil found 142 miles southeast of the well site was "not consistent" with the BP oil, meaning that some oil was naturally occurring in the Gulf, she said.

Calling the BP Gulf spill a "human tragedy and an environmental disaster," Lubchenco said that determining how far out the BP oil is spreading will be an ongoing effort, and that other ships have been dispersed throughout the Gulf to take new water samples.

"Those are in the lab being analyzed now," she said.

"We will report on those as soon as we can."

Meanwhile, Admiral Allen said on Tuesday that the U.S. would investigate reports of a second spill, not far from the BP leak, at the Ocean Saratoga rig operated by Houston, TX-based Diamond Offshore drilling company.  

"We're going to get detailed information and we'll release a statement later on it," said Admiral Allen.

The Press Register newspaper, based in Mobile, Alabama, reported that a crew boat had been observed spraying dispersant on an oil slick emanating from the Ocean Saratoga, which operates in deep water roughly 12 miles off the Louisiana coast.

President Obama sought on Tuesday to reduce further political damage from the catastrophe, criticizing BP CEO Tony Hayward and rebuking some in the U.S. media for their rhetoric about the spill.

"He wouldn't be working for me after making any of those statements," Obama said on the NBC's "Today Show", referring to Hayward's often-sardonic comments, including a prediction that the Gulf spill would be "very, very modest."

Obama disclosed that he had not spoken directly with Hayward since the April 20th explosion.

"When you talk to a guy like a BP CEO, he's going to say all the right things to me. I'm not interested in words. I'm interested in actions," Obama said.

As National Incident Commander, Admiral Allen said he frequently speaks with Hayward to get information or to order specific steps in the containment and cleanup effort.

Obama dismissed criticisms by some in the media that he had been too slow to respond to the spill, or was too tepid in his public remarks.

"I'm going to push back hard on this because I think that this is an idea that got into folks' heads and the media is running with it," the president said.

"I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf."

"This is not theater," Obama said.

"I don't always have time to perform for the benefit of the cable shows," he said.


Image Caption: Commercial vessels skimming the waters near Grand Isle, La., under the direction of the U.S. Coast Guard Buoy Tender Harry Claiborne, homeported in Galveston, Tx. U.S. Coast Guard photo by PA2 Gary Rives.


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