When the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in April 2010, more than 200 million gallons of oil gushed from BP’s Macondo well into the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the petroleum from the United States’ largest oil spill ended up near the surface of the ocean or washed ashore. But the final destination of 84 million gallons has remained a mystery.
A team of scientists led by David Valentine, a University of California, Santa Barbara, earth science professor, have discovered that the oil eventually fell to the deep ocean floor in a “dirty blizzard” that covered a 1,250-square-mile area.
That could have significant implications for the health of coral reefs in the Gulf—and BP’s ultimate liability for the environmental damage caused by Deepwater Horizon. Since the disaster, a battle has raged between BP and some scientists over whether the oil spill harmed deep-sea corals that provide habitat for a plethora of marine life.
Valentine’s study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States on Monday, concluded that corals were in the path of the oil spill.
“Our analyses indicate that significant quantities of Macondo oil were transported near the corals before or during fallout to the sediment,” the study states.
Valentine and colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the University of California, Irvine, also said the oil contamination could reduce the number and diversity of tiny marine organisms that live on the ocean floor within the “bathtub ring” of oil.
A BP spokesman, Jason Ryan, dismissed the finding. “The authors failed to identify the source of the oil, leading them to grossly overstate the amount of residual Macondo oil on the seafloor and the geographic area in which it is found,” he told The Associated Press.
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