Scientists find 2,000-year-old coral near site of BP oil spill

CAIN BURDEAU
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Federal scientists say they have dated coral living near the site of the busted BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico at 2,000 years old.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday it had determined the age of the black coral in the Gulf for the first time. Scientists had been studying the ancient slow-growing corals before BP’s well blew out on April 20, 2010. The corals were found about 21 miles northeast of the BP well living 1,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf.

“They’re extremely old and extremely slow-growing,” said Nancy Prouty, a USGS scientist. “And there are big questions about their vulnerability and their ability for recovery.”

Black corals feed on organic matter sinking to the sea floor and it could take decades, or even centuries, to recover from “a disturbance to these ecosystems,” Prouty said.

She said scientists were looking at whether the ancient coral had been damaged by the BP oil spill, but the damage assessment had not been completed.

The location of the black coral is important because computer models and research cruises have mapped much of the deepwater oil moving to the southwest of the BP well, away from the black coral colony. Scientists have found dead coral southwest of the well.

However, Prouty said the surface oil slick was over the black coral colony during the spill.

BP’s well leaked more than 200 million gallons of oil after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.

Black corals, which resemble deep-sea bushes or trees, are found throughout the world and are an important marine habitat for fish and other forms of marine life. They grow very slowly — a human fingernail grows 200 times faster than black coral, USGS said.

Most of the Gulf’s bottom is muddy and the coral colonies that pop up every once in a while are vital oases for marine life in the chilly ocean depths.

The USGS study was part of a larger federal survey of fragile reef ecosystems.

15 Comments

  1. JimH

    How unsurprising that they Found an endangered species near the BP spill site. Can’t drill in the Gulf of Mexico now.

    #1
  2. houtexanfan

    I understand this is important, but does this article belong in “fuelfix”? If they have been studying this since before the blowout, then the study has nothing to do with the blowout. I also understand that now they are checking to see if any damage was done from the blowout to the coral. I don’t think it was really necessary to tie the BP event to the study of the age of the coral since it was ongoing before the blowout. I know, I’m being picky.

    #2
  3. phantom

    They would have never found this in any of our life times had it not been for subsea drilling … pretty kewl

    #3
  4. Adler

    Ah yes, let’s exaggerate by using gallons instead of the accepted oil field unit of barrels. But then again, nobody knows how much crude the blowout flowed. Isn’t it funny how given 2 very similar wells, 1 flowed for 3 months and another for nearly 9-1/2 months, yet somehow the shorter flow period managed to flow a larger volume? Highly unlikely. But given the hysteria involved it will be years before somebody actually calculates a correct volume.

    Try a simple experiment at home. Fill a 5 gallon bucket with a garden hose for 30 seconds, record the volume of water it contains, then empty it. Now fill it again but this time for 1 minute and 40 seconds. Now, which time did the bucket contain more water

    #4
  5. The_Observer1271

    Great, now all the Eco-Nuts are going to raise a stink about some 2000 year old coral and ban offshore drilling. Maybe theyll chain themselves to the coral like the hippee tree huggers do, but at the bottom of the ocean.

    #5
  6. Trail Trash

    2000 years? So what? The oil is millions of years old.

    #6
  7. SaltWaterCroc

    I love the hysteria of the “plow it under, drill baby drill folks”. Did you ever think that maybe oil shouldn’t be the difference between life and death? That it’s fascinating that the wind farms in Japan suffered little damage and are producing electricity when nuclear plants aren’t? That since 2001 the US has gone from producing almost half the solar panels world wide to producing less than 5%? I know, us old tree-hugger geologists just don’t understand how things work in this world. As a third-generation oil and gas geologist, I have seen a lot of changes over the last 50 years in both drilling safety and alternative energy, but most of them have been outside this country.

    #7
  8. flash

    Oh boy yet another effort to demonize the oil and gas industry…
    Do some people have an agenda or what?

    #8
  9. Tom Fowler

    Houtexanfan:
    We sometimes include pieces like this in the mix because it’s the kind of issue that could very well be part of the legal challenges to a exploration plan in the future. Everyone was exempted from doing local studies/surveys in the past, but post-Macondo that’s all over. Whether you agree with the importance of old coral or not, you know damn sure the company lawyers filing drilling plans and Environmental Impact Statements are going to have to be aware of it. And now you are too!

    Adler:
    The Associated Press style is to usually go with gallons. Personally I usually go with barrels because most of my readers are in the energy business, but AP is going for the broadest of audiences and goes with measurements most people have a better chance of recognizing. It’s really not about trying to make things look worse.

    #9
  10. BON JOVI

    Tom, HouTexFan, Adler Why can’t we figure out what is right for society and our future for generations to come and go with that? Why is this just impossible? i had some serious resistance in another blog today and its hard to deny people make a living at this and it should be upsetting and is. However I wrote this as I feel its reality and we have reached the point where we just have to take a stand. We just can’t use profits as a rubber stamped excuse anymore.
    I realize this is mine and your families livelihood and it will but needs to be affected. Do we need to stop on a dime and retool our country for alternative energy sources? Certainly not. We have to take our chances now. We’re committed. However to completely disregard the risks and management of those risks as nothing more than childish theory or wacko science is so far deposed from reality that there is no hope for our species unless people act. Corporations are obviously not going to do that. We have had 2 very serious global incidents in 1 year and tell me just how long can that continue? We have miniscule radiation still in our food from the atomic testing 50 years ago. That could continue for centuries. Now we have a little more and yet to be dertermined. When will a little more be to much. We have oil in our water. Who among you knows what is to much and what gives you the right to make a guess as a determination? How many woman and children will die of cancer next year because Dad brings home asbestos only because he doesn’t understand the risk or exposure? Why is the U.S. the only industrialized country that allows that? Asbestos collects in carpets and appliances etc. The family can be exposed more than the worker yet we ignore it and actually allow a very intricate organization to squash knowledge of it. I regret this is upsetting but I for one am tired of hearing attacks instead of logiacal reasoning and answers.

    #10
  11. BON JOVI

    My opinion: So attack. People in the energy industry as I was for many years would far better serve the longterm survivability of those industries and their companies if they also demanded answers instead of handing out attacks and lies. If the loose ends are not corrected some industries/companies will self destruct just like what happened in the financial sector and other industries lately. Then you just blamee the government right? We don’t want no stickin government just be there to bail us out. Everyone knew what was going on with the banks, rationalized it as genius and strength over weakness and look what happened.

    #11
  12. Anarchitex

    Sounds like a good place for oil company executives. If their toxic crude hasn’t killed the coral reefs yet, then their corpulent, cholesterol riddled organic matter probably won’t do too much damage either.

    #12
  13. Robert

    Who gives a rats Patoot!! We didn’t know it was there then and won’t care in the future…

    Drill Baby Drill..And put Americans back to work, not Brazilians!!!

    #13
  14. Robert

    Drilled in the middle of it too…!!

    #14
  15. BON JOVI

    Finally someone has taken over. Japan is beingh flooded with cement pumps.

    #15