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Divers Find Oil Under Surface; BP Continues to Deny

A cloud of oil in the water

A cloud of oil in the water

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms that some of the oil escaping from that ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico is staying beneath the surface, raising new environmental concerns about the disaster. BP says there is no significant oil staying underwater.

Scuba divers showed U.S. legislators video of the spill which they shot while 20 meters under the sea and 64 kilometers off the U.S. Gulf coast. The oil is so thick below this depth that it blocks out almost all light. "Something I've never seen in diving, in my whole life out here," said diver Al Walker.

Fellow diver Scott Porter says the substance feels like a mixture of clay and wax. He had to scrape it off his hands. Soap had no effect. "I don't know of anything that would be able to live through that," Porter said.

Yet on Wednesday, BP continued to deny any large amount of oil under the surface.

"No one has yet found any concentrations that measured higher than the parts per million," said BP's Doug Suttles.

Meantime, Congress conducted five oil spill hearings on Capitol Hill Wednesday. Legislators want to know why risks weren't studied when oil rigs drill 5,000 feet below the water.

"I'm just terribly bothered about the lack of foresight, both by our government and of BP and, of course, BP will pay a price for that," said Congressman Vernon Ehlers. "Perhaps even a failure of the corporation at the rate it's going."

"The industry pretends that accidents simply can't happen and the government pretends that industry is the most reliable source of information for making regulatory decisions," said Jeffrey Short. "In the end, this socializes all the risks and privatizes all the profits."

Scientists say BP's usage of nearly four million liters of dispersants is forcing the oil to remain at lower depths in the ocean, where it is carried along the water columns with the currents. The result is a plume, which depletes oxygen and kills off living organisms.

Representative Mario Diaz-Balart posed this question to the Environmental Protection Agency's Albert Venosa: "We know the effects of crude oil are coming to the surface and oiling the animals, but we do not know what the long-term effects are of this thing floating along in the water column. Could it be worse than if it would have been allowed to just float?"

"I can only speculate," said Venosa. "I don't really know."

"So, here we are releasing hundreds of thousands of gallons [liters], whatever the number is gallons....of this chemical into the ocean, not knowing what the affect is going to be longterm, if it's worse or not," said Diaz-Balart. "That to me is inconceivable."

However, if no dispersants were used, all the oil would be surfacing. Visible on the beach. Visible on the animals. Scientists now say it's what they can't clearly see that's starting to worry them.

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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.