University of South Florida researchers say they definitely have discovered underwater oil in the Gulf of Mexico, northeast of the massive BP oil spill.
"We did find oil, no doubt about it, but we don't know the source," said William T. Hogarth, dean of USF's College of Marine Science.
The spread of the massive oil spill across the gulf's surface has been well-documented and closely watched, especially now that the first black blobs have washed onto Florida shores.
But it's less certain, and far more difficult to track, whether the well also is spewing plumes of oil that stay underwater.
After researchers announced last week that they had found an underwater plume, BP CEO Tony Hayward dismissed the report.
"The oil is on the surface," Hayward said. "Oil has a specific gravity that's about half that of water. It wants to get to the surface because of the difference in specific gravity."
Hogarth said samples of gulf water, recently taken below the surface by USF researchers miles away from the well, do show the presence of oil. He said NOAA scientists are studying some of the same samples to determine their concentrations. The scientists plan to outline their findings in a news conference Monday.
But it's too early to tell if these samples came from the Deepwater Horizon rig that is the source of the disaster. That requires more study, Hogarth said.
"We don't have the signature to say it's Horizon oil," he said in a telephone call from Louisiana, where he had been meeting with a group of scientists studying the problem. Some underwater oil occurs naturally in the gulf.
The scientists have performed lab tests on water brought up by collection bottles and passed through filter pads, a web of glass fibers that trap tiny particles in water.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8232. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.