As soon as the White House and Democratic leaders conducted polls and focus groups and determined that a continued focus on the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe would harm their electoral prospects, the fate of the spill was sealed. With the help of BP’s massive spin operation, it was shoved down the memory hole so fast that the epic event and surrounding issues didn’t even warrant a mention at President Obama’s recent press conference.
The cornerstone of the effort to obliterate the story was a hastily released government report that claimed most of the oil had vanished. That report has now sprung more leaks than the original rig, with numerous indications that the damage to the Gulf is profound and lasting.
On September 10th, NPR published this story:
Scientists on a research vessel in the Gulf of Mexico are finding a substantial layer of oily sediment stretching for dozens of miles in all directions. Their discovery suggests that a lot of oil from the Deepwater Horizon didn’t simply evaporate or dissipate into the water — it has settled to the seafloor.
The Research Vessel Oceanus sailed on Aug. 21 on a mission to figure out what happened to the more than 4 million barrels of oil that gushed into the water. Onboard, Samantha Joye, a professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia, says she suddenly has a pretty good idea about where a lot of it ended up. It’s showing up in samples of the seafloor, between the well site and the coast.
“I’ve collected literally hundreds of sediment cores from the Gulf of Mexico, including around this area. And I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said in an interview via satellite phone from the boat.
Joye describes seeing layers of oily material — in some places more than 2 inches thick — covering the bottom of the seafloor.
This past week, at a University of Florida panel discussion, scientists warned about a grave threat to the Gulf’s resources:
Oil-soaked birds may be the iconic image of the BP spill, but marine biologist Edith Widder said equally tragic events occurred offshore out of sight of the public. The spill’s impact extends to aquatic species already on the brink of devastation, she said, such as Atlantic bluefin tuna that spawn in the area affected by the oil.
“It isn’t just water. This is part of our living ecosystem,” she said. “And what we have to recognize is this is the life-support system for our planet.”
Widder, senior scientist and CEO at the Ocean Research and Conservation Association, compared the spill to pushing on a light switch. If the switch flips, she said, the rich diversity of species in the Gulf will be replaced by a system in which the only things able to survive are jellyfish and bacteria.
In our Orwellian political environment, it’s no wonder that a historic spill could be spiked so easily. Sadly, making the story disappear won’t make the damage disappear.