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18 August 2010

Scientists say US figures on spilled oil in Gulf too low

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A new analysis suggests nearly 80 percent of the crude that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico may still be in the ocean, throwing into question government estimates that were significantly lower.

On August 4, the US government said clean-up efforts and natural degradation had elimated some 74 percent of the 4.9 million barrels of oil believed to have spilled from the ruptured Macondo well into the Gulf's seawater.

"The vast majority of the oil from the BP oil spill has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered from the wellhead or dispersed," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wrote.

But scientists from the University of Georgia believe the government analysis ignores the fact that much of the spilled oil remains in the sea, just in smaller droplets or broken-down forms and is based on faulty assumptions.

"We just reanalyzsed this report and then we went to the next step," said Charles Hopkinson, one of the five-member team who reexamined the estimates.

"We came up to 70 to 79 percent must still be out there," he told AFP.

"They said about eight percent was chemically dispersed, but there is no reason not to think it's not still out there. They say that 16 percent was naturally dispersed, and again, there's no reason to think that is not still out there," he said.

The team also challenged the government's estimates of how the oil would dissolve and evaporate, arguing their suggested rates were optimistic and unlikely.


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