LSU expert believes the Gulf of Mexico shows resilience 5 years - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

LSU expert believes the Gulf of Mexico shows resilience 5 years after BP oil spill

Crude oil from the BP Macondo well that blew out on April 20, 2012  (John Snell) Crude oil from the BP Macondo well that blew out on April 20, 2012 (John Snell)
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

"This is just a mix of the Macondo oil and artificial sea water," said Ed Overton, holding a small sample of oil from BP's well blowout five years ago.

On April 20, 2012, the troubled well exploded and belched as much as 134 million gallons of crude from the sea floor.

"This spill changed my retirement plans big time," said Overton, a professor emeritus in the LSU School of the Coast and Environment.

For months following the spill, Overton was regularly featured in newspaper articles and network news stories, often sounding a less alarming tone about the possible long-term effects than many scientists or environmentalists. Overton, who has devoted his working career to studying the chemistry of crude, believes since 2010, "the environment's been dramatically recovering."

Despite widely-reported cases of tar balls dotting beaches and of a 28,000-pound tar mat recovered from East Grand Terre Island recently, Overton insists the remaining oil is "not causing the damage that we saw in 2010."

He believes the oil is less of a threat both in its scope and toxicity. 

"In that tiny little area where that oil still is, it's going to cause some harm," Overton said, "but that doesn't mean our whole coastal marsh, our whole beaches are being impacted."

Some coastal scientists argue that Louisiana, with 7,700 linear miles of coastline, tiny bays and countless inlets, faces unique challenges mopping up a spill.

"It depends on how fresh the oil is," Overton said. "The most dangerous form of the oil is what came out of the well" in the early days of the spill.

Over time, he said the oil has become weathered, broken down and is no longer soluable.

"We're seeing that residual damage, the residue," Overton said, "but it's nothing, nothing, nothing like 2010."

Furthermore, he said the science does not support the notion that the floor of the Gulf of Mexico is coated in oil.

There is, he explains, a large area of residue from bacteria that feasted on crude.

"When we go to Ruth's Chris and eat a steak, the steak turns into us. "We don't turn into the steak."

As such, Overton said the oil has been converted into biomass. Some of the bacteria that gobbed up oil were eat by plankton. As those organism died, they also sank to the bottom.

"Some people are misrepresenting that, saying, 'oh, there's oil all over the bottom,'" Overton said. "That's not what the science is saying."

After the blowout, BP and the government relied on a slim arsenal of techniques to capture the oil.

While boom can be ineffective, corralling the oil and burning it off raised another set of environmental concerns. BP also sprayed massive quantities of dispersant to break down the oil, despite critics who argued those chemical agents could be as toxic as the crude itself.

Overton considers dispersants the least-harmful option, remaining convinced that it prevented the oiling of other parts of the coast and wildlife.

Since that tragic night five years ago, he believes the Gulf of Mexico has written a story of resilience.

"It's like being in a wreck," Overton said. "You've got a lot of carnage, a lot of broken bones. Those heal, but you might still have a little stiffness in an arm that got broken."

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