NEW ORLEANS — Federal scientists said Friday that extensive sampling of the Gulf of Mexico seafloor found oil in quantities too small to collect and in concentrations below harmful levels, except in the area surrounding the BP well.
The Coast Guard's report differs from independent scientists who say oil from the BP spill extensively damaged the seafloor and killed coral, sea fans and many bottom-dwelling animals.
"We are not finding any recoverable amounts of oil" on the seafloor, Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft said. "We are dealing with barely detectable amounts of oil in the parts per billion in many places."
He said the tiny amounts of oil fall well under pollution limits, except for the area within 1 1/2 miles of the BP well, where oil is bound with drilling mud pumped into the well to cap it.
The BP well, about 50 miles offshore from Louisiana, was plugged in September, but not before more than 170 million gallons of oil leaked into the gulf.
Still, government scientists said Friday's report was a guide for the Coast Guard and cleanup crews, not an assessment of the spill's damage to the ecosystem.
The Coast Guard report was a summary of 17,000 water and sediment samples taken between May and October.
Scientists were cautious and even skeptical about the latest report.
Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University, said a recent submarine dive found what appeared to be lots of oil and dead animals on the sea floor at a spot very close to where the government said it barely found any oil.
Ernst Peebles, an oceanographer at the University of South Florida, said researchers there have found anomalies on the gulf floor. "The story (of what is happening) on the bottom is just starting," he said.
The report was hailed by BP as evidence the gulf was making a strong comeback.