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

5 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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I don't think it would cause a disaster of proportions such as the ones depicted here. However, one thing not mentioned is the most likely scenario which could cause an escalation of the disaster on another way. Methane bubbles have been known to cause ships to sink. If there is enough methane in the water, then a ship loses buoyancy. Just picture a huge release of methane gas underneath that huge armada of drill-ships, semi-submersible rigs, skimmers and tankers that are assembled on that site. Not only would it exacerbate the situation, but countless worker lives would be lost in such a disaster. No one could swim, they aren't buoyant. Lifeboats would be useless. All would die unless outside the effective range of the methane release.

June 29 2010 at 11:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

BP's official response makes me want to move out of Miami.

June 27 2010 at 7:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
The 5th Column

Oh... of course.... I believe BP...

June 22 2010 at 11:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to The 5th Column's comment

Yeah, let's ask BP what they think. After all, they've been able to solve this mess... Oh, right.

June 24 2010 at 12:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The full effect of this disaster will not be known for years. I personally have never thought about a methane gas explosion. If it happened it could change the whole appearence of the Gulf of Mexico. I have yet to hear any projections on what Hurricanes will do to this mess. It is a given it will blow oil miles inland. How many years will Hurricanes suck up subsurface oil from the ocean and blow it around. The Gulf of Mexico will probably be a dead zone for the rest of my life and a good chunk of my kids.

June 22 2010 at 6:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wbearl's comment

A hurricane/tropical storm/depression that travels to the east of the spill would push the oil out to sea. Anything to the west of the storm would push oil onto shore. A system directly impacting the middle of the spill would both push oil inland (places east of the center) and seaward (areas west of the center), and as learned from Hurricane Alex anything to the south of the spill will push oil on shore.
It's a Catch-22 for my hometown, Pensacola.

July 10 2010 at 8:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
george davis

when thay drill the relief wells this will be a chain reaction with the other wells and ther for giving that much more chances of big meth bubble you only have 1 chance and its 50/ 50 chance nuk it and reppent first and evacuate the people first

June 22 2010 at 5:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The reason why it is not capped yet is that they drilled over 22,000 feet deep, the pressures that deep are around 100,000 psi and man does not have the capability to handle that force. ( and if they cap it the danger of the bubble exploding increases ) I heard there is no worry of the bubble exploding unless they start to see signs of newly formed faults and fizers on the earth's surface around the well, which by the why is starting to happen right worrys though BP says so....

June 22 2010 at 2:36 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Thank Bush & Cheney for relaxing laws on off shore drilling! Now they really did it! Next will be a Nuclear catastrophy! Soon! The end is near!

June 22 2010 at 1:19 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Jeffrey's comment

you have got to be kidding. do you think it is only them. do you not know that this administration could have done something to relieve this. Europe offered to help but the president said no thanks. union. 3000 engineers and no one knows how to cap this? what happened to organizations which make sure before you do this kind of work you know what you are doing prior to any work. in construction it is called OSHA. This should exist. in the oil industry as well. And by the way, have you never thought that this is being dragged by this administration purposally just to push green!!!! electric cars, .... do not think all is what you see. alot of lies going around.

June 22 2010 at 11:57 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
kt f

thank yourself and everyone you know for relying so heavily on gas drilling.

don't like it?

sell your car for parts, grow your own food, don't travel, get rid of your tv, computer, light bulbs, your household appliances, medicines, cosmetics, anything made of petroleum or corn, and trade goods with local craftspeople.



June 23 2010 at 10:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Laura Settecase

If they decide to use nuclear to try and seal up the hole, they'd better inform the public beforehand so they can evacuate. Using nuclear to seal the hole could cause the demise of the southern states.

June 22 2010 at 10:35 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

This whole mess is absolutely surreal. Why is it that someone does not step up the plate and look for solutions all I see from BP is alot of talk, and stop gap measures that do not work when there are solutions already tried and worked available. This government is just sitting back waiting for BP to fix the problem. well, it's obvious bP can't fix the problem. So get in there and FIX IT111 It's OUR GULf it Belongs to US!!! NOt britan, not BP. Fix this. NOW

June 22 2010 at 10:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jkennedy806's comment
Nothing Tangible

Just what exactly would you have the government do?

There is no government agency that has any type of equipment to handle the situation. Sure there are knowledgeable people in the government, but where would the government get equipment to do the job? At this point the oil companies should pool resources and ideas because, even though this is a BP problem, it will cause problems for ALL drillers in the future.

June 22 2010 at 6:22 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

If BP can flush drill mud through the well head then they can pump propane through it. Pumping propane will cause the oil to freeze in the well pipe/head. As the propane reaches the bottom and goes into the expansive well pipe it will reduce the temperature to freeze the oil. Keep pumping propane into the pipe and then they can repair the pipe stop the flow of propane and the oil will defrost and begin to flow, regulated. Propane is practically harmless to the environment. As long as they don’t try to weld anything, i.e. cause a spark then the propane will not ignite. If it does it has a mile of deep water to go through to get to the surface, by then it will be harmless again.

June 21 2010 at 10:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bfa2's comment

can it freeze 300-500 degree oil?

July 11 2010 at 2:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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