Oil From the BP Spill Found at Bottom of Gulf

Researcher says all 13 core samples are showing oil from the spill.

September 12, 2010, 4:50 PM

Sept. 12, 2010 -- Oil from the BP spill has not been completely cleared, but miles of it is sitting at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a study currently under way.

Professor Samantha Joye of the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia, who is conducting a study on a research vessel just two miles from the spill zone, said the oil has not disappeared, but is on the sea floor in a layer of scum.

"We're finding it everywhere that we've looked. The oil is not gone," Joye said. "It's in places where nobody has looked for it."

All 13 of the core samples Joye and her UGA team have collected from the bottom of the gulf are showing oil from the spill, she said.

In an interview with ABC News from her vessel, Joye said the oil cannot be natural seepage into the gulf, because the cores they've tested are showing oil only at the top. With natural seepage, the oil would spread from the top to the bottom of the core, she said.

"It looks like you just took a strip of very sticky material and just passed it through the water column and all the stuff from the water column got stuck to it, and got transported to the bottom," Joye said. "I know what a natural seep looks like -- this is not natural seepage."

In some areas the oily material that Joye describes is more than two inches thick. Her team found the material as far as 70 miles away from BP's well.

"If we're seeing two and half inches of oil 16 miles away, God knows what we'll see close in -- I really can't even guess other than to say it's going to be a whole lot more than two and a half inches," Joye said.

This oil remaining underwater has large implications for the state of sea life at the bottom of the gulf.

Joye said she spent hours studying the core samples and was unable to find anything other than bacteria and microorganisms living within.

"There is nothing living in these cores other than bacteria," she said. "I've yet to see a living shrimp, a living worm, nothing."

Studies conducted by the University of Georgia and the University of South Florida caused controversy back in August when they found that almost 80 percent of the oil that leaked from BP's well is still out in the waters of the Gulf.

Their report stood in stark contrast to that of the federal government, which on Aug. 4 declared that 74 percent of the oil was gone, having broken down or been cleaned up.

"A report out today by our scientists shows that the vast majority of the spilled oil has been dispersed or removed from the water," President Obama said in August.

The studies by Joye and other scientists found that what the government had reported to the public only meant that the oil still lurked, invisible in the water.

Though initially denying the claim, BP -- and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- acknowledged the existence of the dispersed oil. BP subsequently pledged $500 million for gulf research.

In May, Joye was featured on a newscast as part a team of scientists that discovered giant underwater plumes of oil. Joye and other marine researchers claimed that these plumes present a major threat to underwater creatures.

"The concentrations that are currently out there in various locations are high enough to have a toxic effect on marine life," said Charles Hopkinson, also of the University of Georgia's marine sciences program.

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, the government's top ocean scientist, has acknowledged concerns over the effects of dissolved oil, but has said that chemical dispersants had largely done their job.

"Nobody should be surprised," Joye said. "When you apply large scale dispersants, it goes to the bottom -- it sediments out. It gets sticky."

ABC News' Susan Schwartz contributed to this report.