Hey, Where’d That Oil Go?

The New York Times notes that now that the leak has been stopped at the Macondo well and the stupid rules preventing proper skimming have been relaxed, they’re finding it harder and harder even to locate the oil slicks in the Gulf:

Scientists said the rapid dissipation of the surface oil was probably due to a combination of factors. The gulf has an immense natural capacity to break down oil, which leaks into it at a steady rate from thousands of natural seeps. Though none of the seeps is anywhere near the size of the Deepwater Horizon leak, they do mean that the gulf is swarming with bacteria that can eat oil.

The winds from two storms that blew through the gulf in recent weeks, including a storm over the weekend that disintegrated before making landfall, also appear to have contributed to a rapid dispersion of the oil. Then there was the response mounted by BP and the government, the largest in history, involving more than 4,000 boats attacking the oil with skimming equipment, controlled surface burns and other tactics.

Some of the compounds in the oil evaporate, reducing their impact on the environment. Jeffrey W. Short, a former government scientist who studied oil spills and now works for the environmental advocacy group Oceana, said that as much as 40 percent of the oil in the gulf might have simply evaporated once it reached the surface.

An unknown percentage of the oil would have been eaten by bacteria, essentially rendering the compounds harmless and incorporating them into the food chain. But other components of the oil have most likely turned into floating tar balls that could continue to gum up beaches and marshes, and may represent a continuing threat to some sea life. A three-mile by four-mile band of tar balls was discovered off the Louisiana coast on Tuesday.

This is unqualified good news. It indicates that the spill is likely to have less of an effect than originally thought. It also points out that future spills which are not as horribly mismanaged as this one was for two months need not be the disaster this one was. The EPA’s 15 parts per million rule cost the skimming operation 90 percent of its efficiency for two months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion; none of the 540 miles of oiled coastline needed to have happened.

But as we said several times, nature has an astonishing capability to repair itself, and it will do that here. The Gulf deals with natural oil seeps of millions of gallons of oil every year; the bacteria which break down the naturally seeping oil will do the same to the Macondo oil.

Not to minimize the tragedy of the spill. But we will survive this, and we will overcome it.

And the drilling moratorium, which has shut down some 93 percent of the shallow-water drilling in the Gulf as well as 100 percent of the deepwater drilling, is far more damaging to Louisiana than the oil spill.

It’s time for the Obama administration to admit it was wrong and lift that moratorium. It is long past time.

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