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That damned elusive slick

I noticed a curious thing recently. The BBC’s coverage of the
Gulf oil spill for the last two nights was missing one thing:

A reporter went down in a minisubmarine and looked at a pristine
coral reef. Newsnight interviewed lawyers, fishermen and

But there was no sign of a slick, a slimed pelican or even a tar
ball in their reports.

Then I found this on ABC News and the penny began to

For 86 days, oil spewed into the
Gulf of Mexico from BP’s damaged well, dumping some 200
million gallons of crude into sensitive ecosystems
. BP and
the federal government have amassed an army to clean the oil up,
but there’s one problem — they’re having trouble finding it.

The leak is capped and the spill
appears to be shrinking, but where is it going?

At its peak last
month, the oil slick was the size of Kansas, but
it has been rapidly shrinking, now down to the size of New

Today, ABC News
surveyed a marsh area and found none, and even on
a flight out to the rig site Sunday with the Coast Guard, there was
no oil to be seen.

“That oil is somewhere. It didn’t
just disappear,” said Plaquemines Parish President Billy

Salvador Cepriano is one of the
men searching for crude. Cepriano, a shrimper, has been laying out
boom with his boat, but he’s found that there’s no oil to

“I think it is underneath the
water. It’s in between the bottom and the top of the water,”
Cepriano said.

Even the federal government
admits that locating the oil has become a problem.

“It is becoming a very elusive
bunch of oil for us to find,” said National Incident Cmdr. Thad

The numbers don’t lie: two weeks
ago, skimmers picked up about 25,000 barrels of
oily water. Last Thursday, they gathered just 200 barrels.

Still, it doesn’t mean that all
the oil that gushed for weeks is gone. Thousands of
small oil patches remain below the surface, but
experts say an astonishing amount has disappeared, reabsorbed into
the environment.

“[It’s] mother nature doing her
job,” said Ed Overton, a professor of environmental studies at
Louisiana State University.

Looks like photo-oxidation and biodegradation work well in warm
water, just like some scientists argued.

Here’s another report

Reporters flying over the area
Sunday spotted only a few patches of sheen and an occasional streak
of thicker oil, and radar images taken since then suggest that
these few remaining patches are quickly breaking down in the warm
surface waters of the gulf.

And another:

Since BP capped the renegade
Macondo well at the center of the Gulf oil disaster 12 days ago,
the oil slick has shrunk to about 10,000 square miles from 80,000
square miles in just a matter of weeks.The reduction has amazed
scientists who are tracking the spill and raised many questions
about where all the oil has gone.

Natural resilience.



It looks like my guarded rational optimism on the oil spill was
perhaps if anything too cautious. In Time magazine, Michael
Grunwald exposes the hype
even more starkly:


So far – while it’s important to
acknowledge that the long-term potential danger is simply
unknowable for an underwater event that took place just three
months ago – it does not seem to be inflicting severe environmental
damage. “The impacts have been much, much less than everyone
feared,” says geochemist Jacqueline Michel, a federal contractor
who is coordinating shoreline assessments in

…Anti-oil politicians,
anti-Obama politicians and underfunded green groups all have
obvious incentives to accentuate the negative in the Gulf. So did
the media, because disasters drive ratings and sell magazines;
those oil-soaked pelicans you keep seeing on TV (and the cover of
TIME) were a lot more compelling than the healthy pelicans I saw
roosting on some protective boom in Bay Jimmy. Even Limbaugh, when
he wasn’t downplaying the spill, was outrageously hyping it as
“Obama’s Katrina.” But honest scientists don’t do that, even when
they work for Audubon.

“There are a lot of alarmists in
the bird world,” Kemp says. “People see oiled pelicans, and they go
crazy. But this has been a disaster for people, not



By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  general