Cleanup workers on Gulf Coast doubt oil ‘disappeared’

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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BP announced that 74 percent of the oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon rig’s Macondo well has been evaporated, skimmed, burned or dispersed, something that the Gulf Coast’s cleanup workers find hard to believe.

BP and the Unified Command Center’s cleanup staff said that they have searched “pretty extensively” for the oil, but haven’t been able to find it.

James Martin, a former recruiter and cleanup trainer for a subcontractor of a company BP hired to clean up oil off the beaches and out of the water in the Gulf of Mexico, said BP is laying off workers and sending them home in huge rounds.

“The day I was fired, there were about 250 people let go,” Martin said.

The biggest problem Martin faced while working for that subcontractor was that he never received any of his per diem pay, or cost-of-living expenses at a set rate per day. About a week after he was laid off, another subcontractor hired Martin into a similar role, so he’s now back on a cleanup crew.

“Any of us workers know that 75 percent of the oil is still there, not that 75 percent of it is gone,” Martin said.

Louisiana coastal advocate and facilitator Jimmy Delery, on the other hand, said several scientists have confirmed and even predicted that about 40 percent of the oil from the spill would evaporate into methane gas when it rose to the surface.

In a release, BP said, of that 74 percent, only 33 percent was actually removed or recovered by Unified Command Center workers. BP said 16 percent of the “missing oil” went into microscopic droplets and 25 percent of it naturally evaporated or dissolved.

The remaining 26 percent, BP said, is on or just beneath the surface of the sand or water.

BP’s announcement came on the heels of a Department of Interior and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study of where the oil ended up.

U.S. undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said in the BP release that the new information doesn’t mean the cleanup effort should be viewed as over.

“Less oil on the surface does not mean that there isn’t oil still in the water column or that our beaches and marshes aren’t still at risk,” Lubchenco said.

As for what’s next in the Gulf cleanup effort, Delery said locals and volunteers should practice diligence.

“We need to be prepared for what comes up when it comes up,” he said. “There are going to be pockets [of oil] that are going to show up that we didn’t see before.”

Delery said cleanup crews have to be ready to go for whenever a small plume is reported, keeping skimmers and other necessary cleanup equipment available. A lot of the time, he said, something as simple as cloudy or sunny weather can determine whether or not crews can see plumes.

Through a Unified Command Center spokesperson, BP said it plans to follow a strategy similar to the one Delery recommended: deploying ready-to-respond teams.