February 5, 2015

BP Response To New Study Led By Florida State University

Researchers from Florida State University have contributed another faulty study to the questionable science that has proliferated in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon accident.  The Florida State study is problematic in many ways.

The researchers’ method for calculating carbon derived from oil – which is what they used to try to detect the presence of oil – is flawed, and their estimates of the amount deposited on the sea floor are not supported by the data in their paper.

Instead of using rigorous chemical analysis to identify oil in sediments, the researchers used a tracer common to all sources of oil, including oil from the Gulf’s numerous natural seeps.  There are many natural oil and gas seeps in this part of the Gulf that contribute to a naturally occurring presence of oil components.  According to the National Research Council, natural seeps release 560,000 to 1.4 million barrels of oil annually into the Gulf of Mexico.  Because they did no chemical analysis, they cannot fingerprint the remnant material to Macondo oil, and also have no information on the toxicity of it.  Further, only 3 of their 62 sediment samples had evidence of excess petrocarbon when compared to pre-spill sediment samples.

Importantly, the government’s multi-agency Operational Science Advisory Team Report (OSAT-1), released in December 2010, found that only about 1 percent of sediment samples taken after August 3, 2010 exceeded EPA aquatic life benchmarks for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and only those within 1.86 miles of the wellhead were consistent with Macondo oil.  The OSAT-1 scientists, representing seven federal agencies and BP collaborating under the direction of the U.S. Coast Guard, conducted a full chemical analysis of thousands of sediment samples.  Based on the findings in OSAT-1, the Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC), the federal official responsible for monitoring and directing the response to the spill, concluded that “there is no actionable oil or sediments in the deepwater or offshore zones."

In contrast to the extensive OSAT-1 sampling and thorough chemical analysis, the researchers’ who did this new study used a very small number of sampling locations to extrapolate conditions across an immense geographic area, significantly inflating their estimates.  The type of contouring required for estimating the amount of oil that lies between two different samples cannot be done properly with only 62 samples.  For example, core samples that are inches in diameter are each being used to represent an area up to 3,000 square miles.

Additionally, in their news release, the researchers claim that they found “missing oil” from the spill on the sea floor.

However, there is no missing oil.  Florida State’s claim appears to be based on its mistaken belief that “200 million gallons (4.8 million barrels) of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.”  Not even the U.S. government, which is suing BP for penalties related to the spill, has claimed that much oil was discharged into the Gulf.  And the judge overseeing the Deepwater Horizon litigation ruled on January 15, 2015, that 3.19 million barrels were discharged into the Gulf.  Oil was dissolved, evaporated, diluted, biodegraded, photo-oxidated (chemical reactions caused by exposure to sunlight) or removed by offshore and shoreline response operations where feasible.