Because the world has depended upon petroleum to drive the infrastructure of the global economy for nearly a century, it is surprising to learn that there is as yet no scientific consensus on the long-term effects of crude oil spills into the oceans. Now, I would wager that there is a general consensus that oil spills are bad for the ocean, but there is some evidence to suggest that some players in the petroleum industry are allegedly not above calling research results into question.
Recognizing the extant uncertainty and doubt around the question, the National Research Council published Oil in the Sea III, the third iteration of a report originally issued in 1985, surveyed the data and research available as of 2003, and determined that there is still no comprehensive data on the long-term effects of petroleum release on the seas, calling for the government to undertake a unified, consistent, long-term and independent study.
While the issue went quiet during the Bush Administration, it has yet to be revived significantly with Obama in the White House. Thus while the report was something of a victim of bad timing, it deserves to be read, if only to understand how BP, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill, can continue to cast doubt on whether the oceans are permanently damaged by spills, or whether Mother Nature finds a way to compensate for man’s accidents.