Tsunami and Earthquake Reporting: Gulf Methane Bubble Could Be Horrific.
Updated with a References section on June 24th, 2010 at 18:30 EST:
A new and less well known asymmetric threat has surfaced in the Gulf of Mexico oil gusher. Methane or CH4 gas is being released in vast quantities in the Gulf waters. Seismic data shows huge pools of methane gas at the location immediately below and around the damaged "Macondo" oil well. Methane is a colourless, odourless and highly flammable substance which forms a major component in natural gas. This is the same gas that blew the top off Deepwater Horizon and killed 11 people. The "flow team" of the US Geological Survey estimates that 2,900 cubic feet of natural gas, which primarily contains methane, is being released into the Gulf waters with every barrel of oil.
The constant flow of over 50,000 barrels of crude oil places the total daily amount of natural gas at over 145 million cubic feet. So far, over 8 billion cubic feet may have been released, making it one of the most vigorous methane eruptions in modern human history. If the estimates of 100,000 barrels a day -- that have emerged from a BP internal document -- are true, then the estimates for methane gas release might have to be doubled.
Older documents indicate that the subterranean geological formation below the "Macondo" well in the Gulf of Mexico may contain the presence of a huge methane deposit. It has been a well known fact that the methane in that oil deposit was problematic. As a result, there was a much higher risk of a blow out. Macondo shares its name with the cursed town in the novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by the Nobel-prize winning writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
By some geologists' estimates, the methane could be a massive bubble trapped for thousands of years under the Gulf of Mexico sea floor. More than a year ago, geologists expressed alarm in regard to BP and Transocean putting their exploratory rig directly over this massive underground reservoir of methane. Warnings were raised before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe that the area of seabed chosen might be unstable and inherently dangerous.
Methane and Poison Gas Bubble
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found high concentrations of gases in the Gulf of Mexico area. The escape of other poisonous gases associated with an underground methane bubble -- such as hydrogen sulfide, benzene and methylene chloride -- have also been found. Recently, the EPA measured hydrogen sulfide at more than 1,000 parts per billion (ppb) -- well above the normal 5 to 10 ppb. Some benzene levels were measured near the Gulf of Mexico in the range of 3,000 to 4,000 ppb -- up from the normal 0 to 4 ppb. Benzene gas is water soluble and is a carcinogen at levels of 1,000 ppb according to the EPA. Upon using a GPS and depth finder system, experts have discovered a large gas bubble, 15 to 20 miles wide and tens of feet high, under the ocean floor. These bubbles are common. Some even believe that the rapid release of similar bubbles may have caused the sinking of ships and planes in the Bermuda Triangle.
50,000 to 100,000 PSI
The intractable problem is that this methane, located deep in the bowels of the earth, is under tremendous pressure. Experts agree that the pressure that blows the oil into the Gulf waters is estimated to be between 30,000 and 70,000 pounds per square inch (psi). Some speculate that the pressure of the methane at the base of the well head, deep under the ocean floor, may be as high as 100,000 psi -- far too much for current technology to contain. The shutoff valves and safety measures were only built for thousands of psi at best. There is no known device to cap a well with such an ultra high pressure.
The crude oil from the "Macondo" well, which is damaging the Gulf of Mexico, contains around 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits. Scientists warn that gases such as methane, hydrogen sulfide and benzene, along with oil, are now depleting the oxygen in the water and are beginning to suffocate marine life creating vast "dead zones". As small microbes living in the sea feed on oil and natural gas, they consume large amounts of oxygen which they require in order to digest food, ie, convert it into energy. There is an environmental ripple effect: when oxygen levels decrease, the breakdown of oil can't advance any further.
Fissures or Cracks
According to geologists, the first signs that the methane may burst its way through the bottom of the ocean would be manifest via fissures or cracks appearing on the ocean floor near the path of least resistance, ie, the damaged well head. Evidence of fissures opening up on the seabed have been captured by the robotic midget submarines working to repair and contain the ruptured well. Smaller, independent plumes have also appeared outside the nearby radius of the bore hole. When reviewing video tapes of the live BP feeds, one can see in the tapes of mid-June that there is oil spewing up from visible fissions. Geologists are pointing to new fissures and cracks that are appearing on the ocean floor.
The stretching and compression of the earth's crust causes minor cracking, called faults, and the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico has many such fault areas. Fault areas run along the Gulf of Mexico and well inland in Mexico, South and East Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the extreme western Florida Panhandle. The close coupling of new fissures and cracks with natural fault areas could prove to be lethal.
A methane bubble this large -- if able to escape from under the ocean floor through fissures, cracks and fault areas -- is likely to cause a gas explosion. With the emerging evidence of fissures, the tacit fear now is this: the methane bubble may rupture the seabed and may then erupt with an explosion within the Gulf of Mexico waters. The bubble is likely to explode upwards propelled by more than 50,000 psi of pressure, bursting through the cracks and fissures of the sea floor, fracturing and rupturing miles of ocean bottom with a single extreme explosion.
Cascading Catastrophe Scenarios
1. Loss of Buoyancy
Huge methane gas bubbles under a ship can cause a sudden buoyancy loss. This causes a ship to tilt adversely or worse. Every ship, drilling rig and structure within a ten mile radius of the escaping methane bubble would have to deal with a rapid change in buoyancy, causing many oil structures in its vicinity to become unstable and ships to sink. The lives of all the workers, engineers, coast guard personnel and marine biologists -- measuring and mitigating the oil plumes' advance and assisting with the clean up -- could be in some danger. Therefore, advanced safety measures should be put in place.
2. First Tsunami with Toxic Cloud
If the toxic gas bubble explodes, it might simultaneously set off a tsunami travelling at a high speed of hundreds of miles per hour. 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.
3. Second Tsunami via Vaporisation
After several billion barrels of oil and billions of cubic feet of gas have been released, the massive cavity beneath the ocean floor will begin to normalise, allowing freezing water to be forced naturally into the huge cavity where the oil and gas once were. The temperature in that cavity can be extremely hot at around 150 degrees celsius or more. The incoming water will be vaporised and turned into steam, creating an enormous force, which could actually lift the Gulf floor. According to computer models, a second massive tsunami wave might occur.
The danger of loss of buoyancy and cascading tsunamis in the Gulf of Mexico -- caused by the release of the massive methane and poisonous gas bubble -- has been a much lower probability in the early period of the crisis, which began on April 20th. However, as time goes by and the risk increases, this low probability high impact scenario ought not to be ignored, given that the safety and security of the personnel involved remains paramount. Could this be how nature eventually seals the hole created by the Gulf of Mexico oil gusher?
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Gulf disaster: More problems than just oil.
While the oil itself has been getting most of the press coverage there are some other problems related to the disaster.
One of which is the use of the chemical dispersant known as Corexit:
"June 17 (Bloomberg) -- BP Plc and a Nalco Holding Co. unit, the maker of a chemical dispersant used to deal with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, were sued by Louisiana residents claiming the product is four times more toxic than the oil itself.
BP has been using the dispersant to break up oil and reduce harm to the coast following the April explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The plaintiffs claim BP used the dispersant to save money “and lessen the public reaction to the oil spill” by forcing it to the bottom of the Gulf.
The lawsuit, filed today in federal court in New Orleans, is a proposed class action that would include all workers and Gulf Coast residents claiming harm from the chemical. The plaintiffs are seeking at least $5 million in actual damages and unspecified punitive damages.
“The dispersant has been sprayed over the Gulf of Mexico and has caused a toxic chemical to be a permanent part of the sea bed and food chain in the bio structure,” according to the complaint. The chemical causes “an even more dangerous condition to exist in the Gulf of Mexico than if the oil was allowed to float to the shoreline,” the residents said in the complaint.
More than 1.3 billion gallons of dispersants have been sprayed into the Gulf since April 20, according to the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command linking companies and government agencies responding to the spill.
BP has applied Nalco’s Corexit from planes and from the sea floor to help keep the worst oil spill in U.S. history from damaging wetland habitats.
The lawsuit is one of more than 230 filed against BP over the spill in federal and state courts.
Charlie Pajor, a spokesman for Naperville, Illinois-based Nalco, declined to comment on the lawsuit. “We feel our product is safe and effective,” he said in a phone interview.
Toby Odone, a spokesman for London-based BP, declined to comment.
The case is Parker v. Nalco Co., 2:10-cv-01749, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
There is some evidence that overspray of Corexit has been damaging crops in the area as well.
A second major issue is the release of methane gas. Methane causes an instantaenous loss of bouyancy. It has been suggested that methane gas releases could explain some of the Bermuda Triangle ship disappearances.From AP: (via RR):
"What is even more disturbing and downright frightful is the assessment that appears in the AP.
The oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits, said John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer who is studying the impact of methane from the spill.
That means huge quantities of methane have entered the Gulf, scientists say, potentially suffocating marine life and creating "dead zones" where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.
"This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history," Kessler said.
As bad as an environmental dead zone would be, the impending danger from an explosion is unthinkable. Terrence Aym writes on the Helium site: “Current engineering technology cannot contain gas that is pressurized to 100,000 psi.”
“With the emerging evidence of fissures, the quiet fear now is the methane bubble rupturing the seabed and exploding into the Gulf waters. If the bubble escapes, every ship, drilling rig and structure within the region of the bubble will instantaneously sink. All the workers, engineers, Coast Guard personnel and marine biologists measuring the oil plumes' advance will instantly perish.
The burgeoning methane gas cloud will surface, killing everything it touches, and set off a supersonic tsunami with the wave traveling somewhere between 400 to 600 miles per hour.
While the entire Gulf coastline is vulnerable, the state most exposed to the fury of a supersonic wave towering 150 to 200 feet or more is Florida. The Sunshine State only averages about 100 feet above sea level with much of the coastline and lowlands and swamps near zero elevation.”
Is this the real reason why so much of the Gulf of Mexico is now off limit for ships and aircraft flyover? So what is the solution? Matt Simmons latest dramatic interview on Bloomberg proposes that a small-bore nuclear device is the only way to seal the oil column. He dispels the vaunted hope of relief well drillings because the casing is extensively damaged or destroyed."
What the heck, I'll throw in a total doomsday scenario of a category 5 hurricane heading for the Gulf coast coupled with a huge methane release that creates a tsunami. Boy howdy, that would suck.
As to the latest plume, here's what Matt Simmons has to say:
"Experts forecast an active hurricane season this year. We know it could disrupt efforts to stop the spill, but how else do you think storms could impact the Gulf Coast?
We've got to stop the gusher first. Then we have to deal with the other issues. There's a lake at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico that's over 100 miles wide and at least 400 to 500 feet deep of black oil. It's just staying there. And only the lightest of that is what we're seeing hitting the shores so far. If a hurricane comes and blows this to shore, it could paint the Gulf Coast black. We should have been pumping this oil out onto other tankers weeks ago."
Then there's the benzene and hydrogen sulfide:
"At some testing stations in the Gulf of Mexico, levels of benzene have been detected at over 3000 parts per billion, and levels of hydrogen sulfide have been detected as high as 1192 parts per billion. Considering that these levels are highly toxic to humans, why haven't people been warned?" (Good question)
Yet another possible issue is that the oil film on the surface is interfering with evaporation leading to a change in the weather pattern. The ultimate effect of this is unknown.
Folks, this IS truly a horrible situation in the Gulf and along the Gulf coast.
Oh, as an aside, if BP CEO Tony Hayward decides to retire, he'll get a pension currently worth $16 million dollars. I don't imagine he will be vacationing in the Gulf area though. Poor baby, life is hell------but only for the small people.