Initial findings from a new survey of the Gulf conclude that dispersants may have sent the oil to the ocean floor, where it has turned up at the bottom of an undersea canyon within 40 miles of the Florida Panhandle. Plankton and other organisms showed a “strong toxic response” to the crude, according to researchers from the University of South Florida.
“The dispersant is moving the oil down out of the surface and into the deeper waters, where it can affect phytoplankton and other marine life,” said John Paul, a marine microbiologist at USF.
And the oil could well up onto the continental shelf and resurface later, Paul said.
The oil company BP used more than 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants on the Deepwater Horizon spill between its eruption in late April and the time the well was capped in mid-July. BP says the chemicals allowed the oil to be broken up into droplets small enough that microbes can digest it, and the Environmental Protection Agency has said the dispersants were no more toxic than the oil itself.
The company is responsible for capping, cleaning up and compensating victims of the oil spill, and it has committed to spending $500 million to research the spill’s impact over the next 10 years.