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BP reports 'static kill' success; scientists say majority of oil has been dispersed, removed
In a summary of the report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the White House said a third of the oil released in the spill was "captured or mitigated" by recovery operations, "including burning, skimming, chemical dispersion and direct recovery from the wellhead." It said 25 percent "naturally evaporated or dissolved, and 16 percent was dispersed naturally into microscopic droplets."
The summary said the "residual amount" of 26 percent "is either on or just below the surface as residue and weathered tarballs, has washed ashore or been collected from the shore, or is buried in sand and sediments." It said dispersed and residual oil eventually breaks down through natural processes and that "early indications are that the oil is degrading quickly."
Elaborating later in a White House news briefing, NOAA head Jane Lubchenco said "there is virtually no threat to the [Florida] keys or the East Coast," as had once been feared.
As for the residual oil, however, "no one is saying that it's not a threat anymore," she said. "We do remain concerned and are actively studying the overall impact that both the oil at the surface and the oil subsurface have had on the entire ecosystem of the gulf."
Lubchenco said that even though some of the residual oil is in microscopic parts per million below the gulf's surface, "dilute and out of sight doesn't necessarily mean benign." She added that "the consequences to shrimpers and to fishermen remain to be calculated."
At this point, said Steve Murawski, a senior scientist with NOAA, researchers are focusing on the damage the oil caused over the last three months, especially to sensitive larvae and small creatures living in the gulf.
This accounting shows "where the oil is," he said. "But you know, what did the oil do when it was there?" Because of this uncertainty, he would not say that Obama was wrong to label the BP oil spill the "worst environmental disaster" in U.S. history.
"I think it's too early to conclude it wasn't," Murawski said.
Murawski said the 74 percent figure is based in large part on experiments in laboratories and on calculations using assumption about what the oil is doing. Much of it involves oil hidden in the deep waters of the gulf, where it is difficult to measure.
"I would say that those are the best estimates available to date. They are imprecise, because of the scale that we're dealing with," Murawski said in a telephone interview. "I think the point is the majority of the oil is accounted for [now]."
In all, scientists estimated this week, 4.9 million barrels (205.8 million gallons) escaped from the well. Since it was finally capped July 15, the government has sought to compile what it calls an oil "budget," in essence an accounting of where the oil went.