Now that BP has stopped the flow of oil from its wayward well in the Gulf of Mexico, the spin doctors are beginning to assure us all is going to be just fine. The problem is that most of their information is as sketchy as the numerous estimates of how much oil was leaking that we have heard about over the past several months.
We were first told that 1,000 barrels a day was leaking into the Gulf, but that soon changed to a much larger volume, by some estimates as high as 65,000 barrels a day. One barrel of oil holds 42 gallons so the huge difference in the reports we have been given since this catastrophe started is a difference of millions of gallons of oil. Now it turns out we may not have needed to worry since Washington, D.C., has decided that all but 26 percent of this huge amount of oil is “gone.”
If 74 percent of the millions of gallons of oil that was in the Gulf have simply gone away in such a short time frame, there’s no telling how fast the balance will miraculously disappear. A group of scientists have estimated that a total of 4.9 million barrels, or 206 million gallons, ended up in the Gulf. Twenty-six percent of that total is roughly 54 million gallons, still nearly 5 times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska nearly 20 years ago, where they are still feeling the impacts.
Like all the other garbage we get out of Washington, this new twist on the oil spill has its shortcomings. The basis for this disappearing oil is a 5-page report that blends analysis from other more in-depth reports. The report was supposed to quantify the amount of oil that actually entered the Gulf and explain what has happened to it. The 5-page report refers to another data report from a government committee of scientists called the Joint Analysis Group.
The Joint Analysis Group’s report was one source of information, but it was clearly inconclusive in the findings regarding the amount of oil they could accurately measure and the impacts from the oil. What the report does conclude is that much of the oil has changed the way it occurs within the mile deep water column.
When no one even knows exactly how much oil was released, it seems just short of impossible to declare that 74 percent of it is gone.
The 5-page report believes the oil is gone for the following reasons: 5 percent burned, 3 percent skimmed, 8 percent chemically disbursed, 16 percent naturally disbursed, 25 percent dissolved or evaporated, 17 percent direct recovery from well head and 26 percent still unaccounted for.
If something is burned (5 percent), picked up via skimming (3 percent), or recovered (17 percent), one could argue that it is gone from the Gulf. That computes to a total of 25 percent gone, leaving 75 percent in some other form. It seems the bulk of that 75 percent is “out of sight, out of mind” in Washington’s eyes.
One news report cast the oil disappearance as “like bacon grease that disperses when dishwater detergent is put into a pan, the dispersed oil is less visible but is not gone from the ocean.” Another scientist noted that “diluted and out of sight doesn’t necessarily mean benign.”
Many individuals and businesses have been damaged and will continue to be damaged by the oil spill. The costs will obviously extend into tens of billions of dollars. The sooner this matter can be declared over, the sooner the damages will stop escalating and both Washington and BP will be able to minimize their costs.
The Environmental Protection Agency has already cleared the toxicity issue over concern of the use of the chemical dispersants. That leaves only the longevity of the remaining oil as an outstanding liability.
The disappearing oil is nothing more than orchestrated damage control. It is setting the stage for a future declaration to cap BP’s damages and leave a door open for the government to reach a compromise well below what the actual long term costs will be. The oil that was not collected or burned did not just disappear; eventually it will come back one way or another. Let’s hope in our haste to find an end to this we do not leave taxpayers holding another empty bag.