NOAA consults UW oceanographer on oil spill - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

NOAA consults UW oceanographer on oil spill

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By Bob Schaper - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MADISON (WKOW) -- As the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico grew worse, government officials suspected that BP was underestimating the leak. So they reached out to a small number of scientists across the country for a second opinion.

One of the researchers they contacted was Anders Andren, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute.

"My estimate was around 30,000 barrels per day," he said.

Andren says that's a conservative figure because some of the oil stays below the surface and some of what's on top quickly disappears.

"Between 20 and 40 percent of the oil that will reach the surface will evaporate, that's the lighter fraction, which also by the way contains some of the most toxic components of the oil," Andren said.

Andren said he wasn't surprised when BP's top kill method failed last week.

"If you were to put your thumb on it, so to speak, your thumb would have to weigh between 800 and 900 tons in order for you to get the pressure to hold it down," he said.

As for the oil that washes up on sensitive marshlands, Andren says there may be no way to remove it without harming the environment even more.

"In some areas they will just have to leave the material alone and let it naturally degrade, and it will degrade by partial evaporation, by solar energy... and finally by bacteria. There are lots of bacteria that love oil."

Still, the process can take between 10 and 20 years, he said.

And as we enter hurricane season, Andren says the massive storms can be a mixed bag. On one hand high waters could spread the oil even farther inland. On the other hand...

"A hurricane is like a Waring blender," he said. "And yes it will definitely disperse and there might be some really, really beneficial effects of a hurricane."

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