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Could Gulf Oil Leak Lead to Methane-Bubble Tsunami? BP Responds

4 years ago
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It's not just the crude that is causing problems in the gulf oil spill: Another petroleum byproduct, natural gas, is reported to be leaking in much greater concentrations than previously thought. And not only could the gas be suffocating sea life, but a new analysis warns that a giant, 1,000-year-old methane bubble could soon explode, taking out miles and miles of the ocean floor and causing a violent oil spill tsunami that would threaten the entire gulf coastline.

How credible is this new threat? Surge Desk breaks it down:

The Trouble Methane Has Already Caused

Natural gas, primarily known for its role as a home heating agent, contains between 75 and 90 percent methane by volume. A heat-trapping greenhouse gas, it results as a byproduct in most deep-ocean drilling operations and is highly combustible, although drillers attempt to mitigate its dangerous potential by releasing it in controlled spurts, or "kicks," from a well. Tragically, one particularly strong, uncontrolled kick caused the April 20 explosion that sank BP's Deepwater Horizon platform.

Since then, the oil that has leaked from the Macondo Prospect into the Gulf of Mexico (now pegged at a rate as high as 100,000 barrels per day) has contained about 40 percent methane, according to The Associated Press. The agency notes that this is far greater the 5 percent typically found in oil deposits, and has the potential to create dreaded oxygen-depleted "dead zones" throughout the ocean, wherein no sea life can survive for years. Already, scientists have observed methane concentrations up to 10,000 times higher than normal and corresponding oxygen depletion levels.

As environmentalists have pointed out, the methane released by the BP oil spill is also thought to be adding to global warming, as methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. BP says it's burning much of the natural gas that bubbles up from the source of the leak, but does not account for the portion that has already escaped into the water.

Other science writers have noted that methane does eventually dissolve uniformly in seawater and is consumed by microbes.

The Worst-Case Scenario

The frightening "low-probability" scenario described today by entrepreneur and philanthropist DK Matai at The Huffington Post includes the possibility of a "massive bubble trapped for thousands of years under the Gulf of Mexico sea floor" exploding and setting off a "tsunami [traveling] at a high speed of hundreds of miles per hour."

Matai continues:
Florida might be most exposed to the fury of a tsunami wave. The entire Gulf coastline would be vulnerable, if the tsunami is manifest. Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and southern region of Georgia might experience the effects of the tsunami according to some sources.
He also warns of a "second tsunami via vaporization." This could result after the initial explosion displaced all the oil, gas and water around it, producing a gigantic, extremely hot (300-degree Fahrenheit) cavity, which would vaporize all the incoming water, turning it into steam and causing another rupture in the gulf floor. He notes that as time goes on and the gulf well remains unplugged, the "risk increases."

BP's View

BP America spokesman Robert Wine told Surge Desk that Matai's claims were unfounded, saying: "Of course there's natural gas down there. That's what's coming up, that's what we've been burning this whole time. It's what caused the explosion in the first place, after all, so where does this idea of another bubble or explosion come from? It is a bit difficult to comment on the claims of unspecified geologists."

No matter how unlikely a tsunami might be, we've already entered hurricane season, which has a much greater chance of ruining the gulf oil spill response effort.
Filed Under: Surge Desk, Oil Spill

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