Sunday, June 13, 2010 | 2:03 a.m.
I enjoyed reading the New York Times article reprinted in the June 4 Las Vegas Sun, “Deep under water, reefs face new enemy: Oil plumes,” and I must say I do not understand why BP has been adding the dispersing chemicals to the Gulf of Mexico, which may actually make matters worse.
The essence here is that if we allow the lighter oil to rise to the surface, it is easier to collect/separate and/or burn away than when dispersed in the sea. Adding dispersants/detergents alters the biochemical balance in the Gulf by contaminating it with more chemicals (that may harm life) on top of the toxic oil and, worse yet, may starve the Gulf waters of oxygen as certain bacteria can apparently metabolize/degrade the oil but need oxygen to do so.
Can the bacteria do this successfully at all depths, as not all life can function properly, let alone exist, at 160 atmospheres of pressure and near freezing temperatures on the floor? Adding dispersants to surround oil droplets may also frustrate the ability of the oil to rise to the surface, making it very difficult to remove.
It seems to me the primary reason for using the dispersant is to reduce the visible and dramatic effect of this public relations nightmare for BP and not to truly clean this mess.
The writer is a physics professor at UNLV.