US oil spill 'clearing fast'
Scientists say ocean bacteria helping to break down slick from Gulf of Mexico spill.
Last Modified: 29 Jul 2010 03:22 GMT
The oil spill has been labelled one of the largest environmental disasters in US history [Reuters]

Oil from BP's ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico has been clearing from the surface of the water much faster than expected, US government scientists have said.

They say bacteria in the water, as well as oil's finite life-span, may have contributed to the rapid dispersion, aiding the massive marine clean-up effort launched in response to the spill.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the top official in charge of the clean-up, said recent days had seen oil skimming crews having trouble finding oil to clean up.

"What we're trying to figure out is where is all the oil at and what can we do about it," he said.

At a briefing in New Orleans, Allen said on Wednesday he was confident a relief well preceded by a so-called "static kill" would plug the leak for good.


While the measures were not foolproof, he said engineers were "optimistic that we will get this thing done".

in depth

"This has been done before. It's not novel technology," he said.

However, exactly 100 days after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and started the leak, concerns remain over the oil's unseen effects below the ocean surface.

The high-range government estimate for the spill is that nearly 5 million barrels of oil have leaked into the ocean since the rig explosion.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, John Amos, president of SkyTruth, a company which has been monitoring the oil spill disaster, confirmed that recent satellite images had shown that the "monolithic slick" was rapidly starting to break up and dissipate.

Those findings were a positive sign, he said, but there remained a long way to go.

In particular questions remain about the large amount of oil that lingers beneath the surface of the water, as well as the long-term impact of chemical dispersants used to try and break up the slick.

"Nature has given us a big help, through evaporation, biodegradation, the mechanical breakdown of oil by storms," Amos told Al Jazeera.

"Nonetheless nature has been overwhelmed by the spill, just as our clean-up capacity has been overwhelmed.

"As we've seen in previous spills, the toxic effects of this oil can actually linger and have measurable impact for decades."

Al Jazeera and agencies
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