Coast Guard Report Examines Oil in Sea Floor Near Blown-Out BP Well

BY Jenny Marder  December 18, 2010 at 11:03 AM EST

A federal report released Friday detailed the levels of oil that remain lodged in sea floor sediment around the blown-out BP well in the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil was found in concentrations too small to collect in most areas, and below harmful levels. But the area spanning a mile and a half around the well had concentrations of oil mixed in with drilling mud at levels high enough to raise concerns about harming marine life. Chemical tests confirmed that it matched BP oil, and officials said there was no practical way to clean it.

“We are not finding any recoverable amounts of oil” on the seafloor, Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft said. “We are dealing with barely detectable amounts of oil in the parts per billion in many places.”

The new findings were released by the Operational Science Advisory Team, a group formed in August to determine what happened to the 170 million gallons of oil that leaked into the Gulf. The report is based on a chemical analysis of nearly 17,000 water and sediment samples collected between May and October.

It also found that more oil detected in shallow waters along the coast could wash ashore.

Of the new findings, BP said: “The scientific evidence in this report is consistent with our observations that the beaches are safe, the water is safe, and the seafood is safe,” Mike Utsler, BP’s Unified Area Commander, said in a statement.

Government scientists said Friday’s report was not an assessment of the spill’s damage to the ecosystem, but rather a guide to help the Coast Guard and cleanup crews, according to an Associated Press report.

But many questions remain on the long-term fallout from the spill. Still unknown are the effects of the 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants sprayed into the ocean. Some tests have found chemicals contained in the dispersant in seafloor sediment, according to the Wall Street Journal. And scientists say they have found dead marine animals in areas where oil quantities were reported low.

We’ll have more on the report’s findings on the Rundown Monday.