UPDATE 1-Scientists raise queries about Gulf oil left behind

* New reports say leftover oil poses threat to ecosystem

* One says nearly 80 percent of oil from spill remains

* Another spotlights oil in underwater canyon
(Adds NOAA statement)

By Tom Brown

MIAMI, Aug 17 (BestGrowthStock) – Two new scientific reports raised
fresh fears on Tuesday about the environmental fallout from the
world’s worst offshore oil spill and questioned government
assurances that most of the oil from the ruptured well in the
Gulf of Mexico was already gone.

In one of the reports, researchers at the University of
Georgia said about three-quarters of the oil from BP’s (BP.L: )
(BP.N: ) blown-out Macondo well was still lurking below the
surface of the Gulf and may pose a threat to the ecosystem.

Charles Hopkinson, who helped lead the investigation, said
up to 79 percent of the 4.1 million barrels of oil that gushed
from the broken well and were not captured directly at the
wellhead remained in the Gulf.

The report was based on an analysis of government estimates
released on Aug. 2 that Hopkinson said had been widely
misinterpreted as meaning that 75 percent of the oil spewed by
the well had either evaporated, dissolved or been otherwise
contained, leaving only about 25 percent.

“The idea that 75 percent of the oil is gone and is of no
further concern to the environment is just absolutely
incorrect,” Hopkinson told reporters on a conference call.

Separately, a study released by University of South Florida
scientists said experiments in the northeastern Gulf where
so-called plumes or barely visible clouds of oil had been found
earlier had turned up oil in sediments of an underwater canyon.
The oil was at levels toxic to critical marine organisms.

Oil droplets were found in the sediments of the DeSoto
Canyon, where nutrient-rich waters support spawning grounds of
important fish species on the West Florida Shelf, this report
said.

In a response to the University of Georgia report, a
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
spokesman said the Aug. 2 government calculation was based “on
direct measurements whenever possible and the best available
scientific estimates where direct measurements were not
possible.”

“Additionally, the government and independent scientists
involved in the Oil Budget have been clear that oil and its
remnants left in the water represent a potential threat, which
is why we continue to rigorously monitor, test and assess
short- and long-term ramifications,” NOAA Communications
Director Justin Kenney said in a statement.

For 87 days following the April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig
explosion that triggered the oil spill, crude spewed into the
Gulf, contaminating wetlands, fishing grounds and beaches from
Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle. BP engineers provisionally
capped the leak on July 15 and are working to permanently
“kill” the well later this month.

NOAA head Jane Lubchenco told a White House briefing on
Aug. 4 that: “At least 50 percent of the oil that was released
is now completely gone from the system. And most of the
remainder is degrading rapidly or is being removed from the
beaches.”

“THERE’S OIL IN THE WATER”

But University of Georgia marine sciences professor
Samantha Joye and other researchers have seen no scientific
information to support that view.

“I have not seen data that leads me to conclude that 50
percent of the oil is gone,” Joye said.

“No one’s standing up here and saying ‘this is a doom and
gloom scenario,’ but at the same time it’s not as straight
forward as saying all the oil is gone either,” she said.

“What we’re trying to point out is the impacts of oil are
still there. There’s oil in the water, there’s oil on the
seafloor, there are going to be impacts on the system. We have
to continue monitoring and evaluating what those impacts are.”

The University of South Florida researchers said their
initial findings after a 10-day mission in the Gulf strongly
suggested that oil from BP’s spill had settled on the seafloor
further east than previously suspected, at levels toxic to
marine life.

University oceanographer David Hollander said on a
conference call he believed the government’s Aug. 2 assessment
“was a little bit premature from a scientific point of view.”

“Dispersed does not mean that it won’t have an impact,” he
said, referring to the government estimates. But he stressed
that the University of South Florida mission’s initial findings
would need to be verified by more scientific testing.

President Barack Obama’s administration, which has been
criticized for its handling of the catastrophic spill, is
seeking to reassure skeptical Gulf Coast residents and the
wider public that the worst of the emergency is over.

Obama, who took his family to Florida’s Panhandle Coast at
the weekend to demonstrate that the beaches were clean and
“open for business,” says the biggest environmental cleanup in
U.S. history will not end until the last of the oil is gone.
(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Philip Barbara)

UPDATE 1-Scientists raise queries about Gulf oil left behind