Waves of Dispute Over Extent of Gulf Oil Plume

Sheen of oil found on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico
Sheen of oil found on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico
TAMPA (2010-06-01) -

The head of BP recently said there's no evidence oil has been found below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. But that's being contradicted by researchers from several universities, including USF.

How much oil is in the Gulf? And how deep does it go? Well, that depends on who you ask. Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, says oil is only on the Gulf's surface and samples from company scientists say there's no evidence oil has sunk below the waves. Researchers at several universities - including USF's College of Marine Science - have reported layers of oil are reaching deep under water.

James Cowan, a marine scientist from Lousiana State University, told the Associated Press his reaction to BP's comments.

"To me, I just don't think that Mr. Hayward has spent much time looking for it," Cowan said. "And I certainly don't think he wants to find it, because it would make cleanup efforts much more complicated if there is oil suspended at depth."

And at least one congressman is questioning BP's claims. Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey has sent a letter to Hayward, asking for documents to back up his claims. Markey says the government and researchers need to have unfettered access to all the company's data on the underwater plumes.

Also, a group of academicians will meet Wednesday for the first time in St. Petersburg to discuss their reaction to the Gulf oil spill.

It's called the Oil Spill Academic Task Force. It's made up of scientists from throughout the state's university system - as well as private colleges. It was created by the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees public universities, to coordinate research on the Gulf oil spill.

The universities have been in the forefront of research in to the extent of the oil spill, it's possible trajectory and how deep the oil can be found. They rely on data from automated underwater gliders, as well as the research vessels based in St. Petersburg.

One of the researchers expected to attend has some practical experience in the area. Phil Mundy heads a major aquatic reseach facility in Alaska and has served on an advisory committee set up in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill. The magnitude of that spill has since been surpassed by the BP oil rig collapse.

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