USF researcher: oil still causing trouble in Gulf

02/08/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Former Governor Charlie Crist and failed Democratic candidate for governor Alex Sink plan to reiterate their support for a constitutional ban on oil drilling in state waters tomorrow in Tallahassee. To those who watched last year’s gulf oil disaster from afar, the problem may seem all but gone. But to researchers at USF St. Petersburg it’s still out there, weathered beyond smithereens, menacing the Gulf of Mexico food chain. Speaking to students and faculty recently at USF’s St. Pete campus, USF chemical oceanographer David Hollander said data gathered over the past few months show the picture is a lot better than it was last summer, but it’s not exactly back to normal.

Hollander said the BP oil disaster was catastrophic, but it did have some silver linings. One was that it demonstrated the multifaceted nature of marine science.

Last summer, the USF marine science research team went out into the gulf on the research vessel Weatherbird II multiple times to study the BP oil – where it was going, what form it was in, and what it was doing to marine life. The team often made headlines when their research suggested the government was low-balling estimates of the oil leak’s severity.

Hollander said USF and several other organizations were able to conduct research in ways other institutions could not for a reason.

He said there was a lot of skepticism in August, when Obama administration officials said the oil was 75 percent gone.

Hollander said one of the key ways in which USF researchers helped to demonstrate the severity of the disaster was by linking the gigantic subsurface plumes of weathered oil to BP’s Macondo well – which USF researchers accomplished by fingerprinting.

But it wasn’t easy to get a Macondo sample from BP, Hollander said.

Hollander said if there’s one take-home message from the past year, it’s that, contrary to popular belief, research isn’t something overpaid academics do in the safety of an antiquated ivory tower – that its practical applications are many. Hollander said this is why he hopes the governor will continue to fund it.

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