Where Has All the Oil Gone?


"Did GOM clean-up efforts work better than expected?"

Where's the oil in GOM?For nearly three months, the world was mesmerized by watching the live feed of oil gushing from the bottom of the Gulf. Now, only a few weeks after the leak was capped, crews are having trouble finding any of the spilled oil to clean up. Despite hundreds of boats and spotter planes looking for spilled oil, there is little to be found.

There are several possible answers—the most ominous and least likely is much of the oil is simply trapped in the area underneath the water between the surface and the Gulf's floor. While there will be obvious pockets of oil that will difficult to find and could bubble to surface for years to come, it is probably a fraction of the total that escaped.

The most logical answer is the clean-up efforts worked better than expected. British Petroleum burned off much of the oil and the dispersants, which caused much of it to break up. The rest, thanks to the large number of skimmers in the area, captured more than anyone realized.

Next is the Mother Nature factor. Environmentalists are always quick to talk about her as "fragile" and "a delicate balance." Given enough time, the oil will disperse and begin to break down—especially in the warm waters of the Gulf. Microbes will feast on the oil. The mild churning tropical storm Bonnie gave the GOM over the weekend, combined with no more oil leaking, might have been what was needed.

While this will linger for years—if not decades—in the courts; this is the first hopeful sign that things are returning to normal since the accident occurred in April.

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