A group for researchers from the Georgia Sea Grant grabbed headlines yesterday by challenging NOAA's claim that 75% of the BP oil is accounted for - that it has been captured, burned, evaporated, degraded, dissipated or munched by microbes. The study by the Georgia group claims that 80% still lurks somewhere in the environment.
First off, the numbers aren't comparable because the Georgia group's percentage does not account for the oil BP captured in its operations, some 800,000 barrels. By ignoring the captured oil, your headlines can tout a larger percentage of "missing" oil.
The Georgia group also has a very low estimate of the amount of oil that should have evaporated. With a light crude oil, quite a bit of the volume should evaporate, otherwise the residue would still be light than water and would not sink. But even their low-ball estimate of evaporation losses worries the Georgia Sea Grant folks:
Questions have been raised by the state’s scientific community about the vulnerability of communities living downwind of the Gulf of Mexico, including the Atlanta metropolitan area.
Playing to the crowd, maybe?
The Georgia researchers seem to be concerned about the presence of any oil molecules in the pristine natural environment, no matter how dispersed, no matter how dilute. Are they aware that almost 1,000,000 barrels of crude oil enters the Gulf ecosystem from natural seeps each year?
Dilution is also a key factor that seems to be acknowledged in the NOAA assessment. I haven't checked the math, but something I've heard seems credible: that the volume of the oil spill, compared to the volume of water in the Gulf would be like comparing the contents of a can of beer to the volume of the cavernous Superdome in New Orleans.
A 24-ounce can of beer, but still.
Reading the Georgia report left me with the impression that these folks are desperately clinging to the notion that oil may yet foul Georgia's Atlantic beaches.
It ain't gonna happen. The spill has stopped. The oil in the water, whatever percentage is left, is too dispersed and too dilute to be of any consequence to anyone more than 100 miles from the spill.
Cross-posted at VladEnBlog.