Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hot Oil News, Thin Verification

The Associated Press claims to have breaking news this afternoon that "Marine scientists have discovered a massive new plume of what they believe to be oil deep beneath the Gulf of Mexico, stretching 22 miles from the leaking wellhead northeast toward Mobile Bay, Alabama." The scientists mentioned are from the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science.

The odd thing is that the reporters offer no quotes on the main scare in the story. Moreover, a news release by the College itself mentions nothing about Mobile Bay.

What the scientists themselves say is:
Researchers aboard the University of South Florida’s R/V Weatherbird II conducting experiments in a previously unexplored region of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have discovered what initial tests show to be a wide area with elevated levels of dissolved hydrocarbons throughout the water column, possibly indicating that a limb of an undersea oil plume has spread northeast toward the continental shelf.
* * *
The findings will undergo confirmation testing when the R/V Weatherbird II returns to its homeport of St. Petersburg at approximately 8 a.m. on Friday.
* * *
“Our concern regarding these contaminants is they have the potential to be incorporated in the food web,” said David Hollander, a chemical oceanographer who is a lead investigator in the research mission. “The first ecological impact of this spill is the effect on coastal habitats, including marshes, beaches and estuaries. The second threat to nature would be the impact on the food webs. That is what’s at risk.”

Based on what's been seen today from the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press, we have entered the "Hysterical Press Season." That's the time that frequently follows a widely publicized crisis that has a painfully prolonged denouement.

Some reporters get itchy and restless. They want to wrap this thing up. Readers beware.

Closer to home, the Pensacola News Journal is reporting, responsibly, that a hundred or so pieces of what appear to be "tarballs" -- but may be anything, including old storm-damaged road material left from 2004 -- were found on the beach Wednesday. County neighborhood services deputy Keith Wilkins and SRIA general manager "Buck" Lee are being suitably cautious. They --
said most of what has been found on the beach so far has been pieces of asphalt from beach roads destroyed in Hurricane Ivan, charcoal, old tar balls from ships or oil spilled during Hurricane Katrina or from unknown sources.
The material has been sent to a lab for analysis.

Wilkins isn't being hysterical, merely realistic when he adds, "One day a tar ball will wash up here, and it will be BP's. And that will show the slick has reached this far and has impacted this area."

Meanwhile, about the last thing we need are bogeyman stories from impatient journalists at the AP or anywhere else.

1 comment:

BeachLover said...

Thanks for an excellent post. I do find it interesting that I've been out on Pensacola Beach and wading in the Gulf almost every afternoon for weeks, and have yet to encounter anything remotely resembling a tar ball, nor certainly have I had anything stain my feet such as fresh oil would surely do. Also, have to wonder what causes the magic number of 100 tar balls to be found on Pensacola Beach and the same number on Perdido Key according to the PNJ article. Sure seems strange to me. Is someone under orders to go out and find 100 black things on each beach??