There's an oil ring the size of Rhode Island at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and researchers say it belongs to oil company BP. According to a study published yesterday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, about 10 million gallons of coagulated oil now coats the sea floor, following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that resulted in 172 million gallons of oil being spilled into the Gulf in 2010. The rest of the oil, however, is still largely unaccounted for.
10 million gallons of coagulated oil coats the sea floor
"Based on the evidence, our findings suggest that these deposits are from Macondo oil that was first suspended in the deep ocean, then settled to the sea floor without ever reaching the ocean surface," David Valentine, one of the study's authors and a biogeochemist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the National Science Foundation.
In the study, Valentine and his colleagues gathered 3,000 samples of water from 534 locations in the Gulf of Mexico. This helped them locate the half inch-thick oil ring, and determine that the oil levels inside the ring are as much as 10,000 times higher than those found outside the ring, reports the Associated Press.
BP doesn't agree with the findings, however. The company told the Associated Press that the researchers were unable to determine the source of the oil — an aspect of the study that lead "them to grossly overstate the amount of residual Macondo oil on the sea floor and the geographic area in which it is found."
In response, Valentine explained that determining the oil ring's source with a chemical analysis is impossible, but that the characteristics of the ring, including its depth and its distance from the well, is enough to link it directly to BP. Unfortunately, the study wasn't designed to look at the environmental impact of the oil ring, so it's still unclear just how much damage it may have caused so far, or how much it continues to cause today.