Cross-posted from the Wonk Room.
Yesterday, Obama’s ocean chief said that the threat of the BP oil disaster getting caught in the Loop Current “sounds scarier than it is.” As she was making these statements, satellites imagery showed the Maryland-sized slick being entrained in the Loop Current, which loops through the Gulf of Mexico and out the Florida Strait, feeding the powerful Gulf Stream current that sweeps along the Atlantic seaboard.
Speaking with Gwen Ifill on PBS Newshour, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), admitted that the growing slick is “likely” to be entrained by the current, but only a “very small stream” that would be “very, very diluted,” weathered into tarballs, and “not likely to have a very significant impact.” When queried by Ifill how big the tarballs would be, Lubchenco squeezed her fingers together in front of her face, and declared, “Very little tarballs!”:
LUBCHENCO: There’s a very small stream of oil that is a very light sheen that is getting close to the Loop Current. And it’s likely that, at some point, it will be entrained by the Loop Current. But that current, if there is oil entrained in it, it would be probably nine to 12 days before that would reach the Florida Strait. And, during that time, it gets highly diluted, parts per billion, and it weathers naturally. And, so, any oil that would be reaching Florida Strait might be in the form of tarballs, for example. And whether it ever comes ashore or not would be a function of whether there were good onshore winds bringing it. So …
IFILL: You say tarballs, you mean [softball-sized] tarballs or [human-sized] tarballs?
LUBCHENCO: Probably little, very little tarballs.
“By the time the oil is in the loop current,” Lubchenco concluded, “it’s likely to be very, very diluted. And, so, it’s not likely to have a very significant impact. It sounds scarier than it is.”
NOAA — the agency responsible for measuring and predicting the extent of the oil disaster — completely failed to predict the entrainment of a huge band of the slick into the Loop Current on May 17. NOAA is not currently publishing any maps or predictions of subsea extent of the dispersed oil plumes.
Meanwhile, yesterday tarballs the size of softballs were found washed up on Key West. According to news reports, at least some of the tarballs come from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which means that the leading edge of the oil disaster reached the Loop Current eight to ten days ago.