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Why can’t they implode the well like they did during the Gulf War?
That is not really an option in this situation. This reservoir is extremely methane rich and detonating a blast would lead to major destruction and destabilization of a significant area of the slope in the vicinity of MC252. In my opinion, this option is far too dangerous to be seriously considered.
How serious is the oxygen depletion problem?
Potentially, this is a very serious problem. At present, oxygen concentrations exceed 2 mg/L but if concentrations drop below that, it would spell problems for any oxygen requiring organisms. The Southwest Plume is, at a minimum, 15 miles long x 2 miles long and the plume is about 600 feet thick. Temperatures in the plume are about 8-12ºC. We do not know the absolute oil content at this time.
The plume is largely water. This is not thick oil like you see on the surface in some places, it’s diluted oil and it’s most concentrated closest to the leaking riser pipe. Unlike a natural oil seep, which is most intense on the bottom and whose signal decreases with depth above the seafloor, the plume we are studying starts 200m above the seafloor and its intensity decreases horizontally with distance away from the leaking wellhead.
The specific gravity of oil is irrelevant to this discussion. This is not oil like you buy at the auto supply store. Think of it as gas-saturated oil that has been shot out of a deep sea cannon under intense pressure – it’s like putting olive oil in a spray can, pressurizing it and pushing the spray button. What comes out when you push that button? A mist of olive oil. This well is leaking a mist of oil that is settling out in the deep sea.
How much biodegredation appears to being observed for the oil plumes?
There is a tremendous amount of oxygen consumption in the plumes. We have measured respiration rates in the plumes, above and below the plumes, and at control sites where plumes are not present. The respiration rates in the plume are at least 5-10 times higher than we see anywhere else.
Are the conditions good for the microbes that can degrade these types of hydrocarbons?
Right now, conditions seem to be ideal for microbial degradation. But we need to do additional lab experiments to figure out what is regulating microbial activity.
Are the concentrations of the hydrocarbons so great that the microbes are over-whelmed or killed?]/b]
We have not yet measured toxicity but we plan to do that when we get back to the lab at UGA.
It is difficult to quantify the impact leakage of crude will have on the wealth generating capacity of the Gulf's biota. Some of the most helpful guidance (but requiring study) can be found in the work of the late Howard T. Odum and books such as Environmental Accounting. Page 130 of this reference includes an 'emergy' analysis of the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 (similar in magnitude to the quantity of crude that may be released by Deepwater Horizon) which suggests that the loss of productivity was considerably less than the gain to the local economy after damages had been awarded and other financial assistance had flowed into the area. Of course, such an analysis overlooks the incremental loss of environmental productivity across the globe arising from such incidents, but in the short term the economic gain from exploiting the stored energy content of hydrocarbons such as oil, gas or coal continues to outweigh that generated by the productivity of a coastal zone such as the Gulf's.
The following is a simple effort at estimating the quantity of greenhouse gases that could be released by the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Numbers assume that all the gas contained in the crude rises to the surface from the blow-out preventer (BOP) located on the seabed at a depth of some 1,560 meters. In practice, this may not occur if the oil containing gas (as a liquid) remains at depth or if some of the gas released forms hydrates before it reaches the surface.
Some of the numbers I have used are based on values from the Oil Drum that has provided detailed and excellent coverage of the incident and from a reader (Paul K2) who responded to a New York Times blog article about BP agreeing to stream live video of the blowout.
Estimated rate of leakage = 20,000 barrels of oil per day (bopd).
Assumed gas to oil ratio = 3,000 standard cubic feet per barrel (SCF/bbl)
NB: The pressure of water at the depth of the blow-out is high (156 atmospheres) and sufficient to keep gas in a liquid state. This means that the flow of 'liquids' shown leaking from the damaged BOP is a mix of crude and 'supercritical' gas. At the surface (atmospheric pressure) this gas would occupy a volume of 3,000 cubic feet (ft3) for every barrel of oil, but at the depth of the blow-out it occupies somewhere closer to 20 ft3. The volume of one barrel of oil is typically around 5.6 ft3 and on this basis close to 80% of the 'liquid' seen escaping from the well may actually be pressurised / liquid gas. This may be the reason for the apparent mismatch between leakage rates that BP has quoted and the public's perception of volumes derived from webcams of the damaged well.
Total gas capable of reaching the surface = 60,000,000 standard cubic feet a day = 1,610,000 Nm3/day = approx 1,300 tonnes per day assuming the average density of natural gas = 0.8 kg/Nm3.
Assume methane content of gas = 85%
Methane (greenhouse gas) released = 1,100 tonnes per day
Equivalent 100 year greenhouse warming potential = 27,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per day.
NB: Combusting / oxidising 1,100 tonnes of methane would generate approx 3,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a day
As oil continues to leak out of the collapsed Deepwater Horizon well head, researchers are beginning to collect data on how it is changing life in the Gulf of Mexico.
Earlier today, Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia in Athens spoke of what they are finding. She said that methane concentrations in a giant underwater plume emanating from the well head are as much as 10,000 times higher than background levels. The consequences of this for life in the gulf are unknown.
Joye was one of the first scientists to discover deep-water plumes emanating from the ongoing spill and recently returned from a two-week research expedition on board the research vessel F. G. Walton Smith. "It's an infusion of oil and gas that has never been seen before, certainly not in human history," she said earlier today, as she described her preliminary findings.
The plume is more than 24 kilometres long, 8 kilometres wide and 90 metres thick, and stretches from 700 to 1300 metres below the surface south-south-west of the collapsed Deepwater Horizon well head.
Joye's team measured oxygen levels throughout the water column near the plume and found them to be lower than normal, all the way from the sea floor to the surface. She says this is a result of increased activity from bacteria that are digesting the oil.
The Gulf of Mexico is no stranger to decreased oxygen levels: every year, fertilisers pouring off the US coast boost algal growth, which sucks oxygen out of the water and stifles other life forms, creating one of the world's largest known dead zones.
Joye said she did not think the extra microbial activity would be significant enough to create additional dead zones in the gulf, because microbes need nutrients that do not exist in high enough concentrations at depth. But she cautions that the environmental implications are unknown.
so how is it now 2 weeks later??
Originally posted by getreadyalready
UPDATE! Water and beach in Pensacola were oil free today, kind of. There was definitely a smell similar to WD40. There was a lot of seaweed
washing up. Seaweed is not unusual, but it typically follows a bad storm. It isn't normally as bad as today. Maybe the oil is killing the seaweed beds?
Drove down from Pensacola to Destin. Smell was worse, but seaweed wasn't so bad. The beautiful Emerald color was not as nice as usual. The water seems darker in some way.
This is certainly affecting the beaches, and I am sad to report that my beach experience today was significantly different than just 2 weeks ago!
One major aspect of the oil spill Joye was able to study, however, was the amount of methane, a greenhouse gas, found in the plume.
According to her data, concentrations of methane are increasing in the water column closer to the spill site and reduced farther out, she said.
The plume’s methane concentration is between 100 and 10,000 times that seen in the Gulf of Mexico — enough already to completely deplete the oxygen.
“I’ve been working in the Gulf of Mexico for 15 years,” she said. “I’ve never seen concentrations of methane this high anywhere in the water column.”
However, Joye said she would not go as far as to suggest the formation of dead zones in the Gulf, as microorganisms breaking down the oil will likely run out of other key nutrients before they consume what remains of the oxygen.
About 10 percent of the oil is being siphoned off, she said, but that means 90 percent is still making its way into the saltwater.
“The amount of oil and gas, the sheer mass of the material that has been injected into this system, is tremendous,” Joye said.
She said that because of the way currents run in the Gulf, the oil will be sloshed and circulated in this isolated body of water, first to the northeast and then to the southwest.
“The stuff’s gonna stay there, and it’s gonna circulate around, and it’s gonna have a lot more impact,” she said....
“It’s an infusion of oil and gas unlike anything that’s ever been seen anywhere, certainly in human history,” she said. “It’s impossible, I think, to know what the impact is going to be. It’s going to be months, or years even, before we realize the full consequences of this spill.”
Oceanographer Ian MacDonald of Florida State University, who early in the crisis announced his own estimate of 26,500 barrels a day, said the confidential BP document reveals that the company made basic errors in calculating the thickness of the oil at the surface.
"BP screwed up a fundamental engineering calculation, and as a consequence they had some bad numbers out there, and they gave these numbers to the Coast Guard," MacDonald said. "They underestimated the size of the slick on the surface and they neglected to account for the oil that was being lost in the midwater."
BP spokesman Andrew Gowers said Thursday by e-mail, "There is no secret about this. It was our contribution to the Unified Command estimate that was published shortly afterwards. We have always said we made a contribution to that estimate but that it was an estimate by the Unified Command."
The plume team estimate is still considered preliminary. The team's method tracks individual billows and estimates how far they traveled over a very short period, such as one-twentieth of a second. The speed of the features does not reveal, however, precisely how fast the oil inside the plume and out of sight is moving.
Peter Cornillon, of the University of Rhode Island, said his group came up with a lower bound for their estimate -- 12,000 to 25,000 barrels a day -- but couldn't agree on an upper bound.
"We never came up with a number on the upper end," Cornillon said. "If we came up with an upper bound, it would have to be quite large . . . The concern was that the press would focus on the upper bound."
Once the riser was cut, said Steve Wereley at Purdue University, "The flow must go up," because the oil is no longer held up by the kink in the pipe. But Wereley said the flow was so poorly understood that he didn't believe estimates that the flow had increased by 20 percent.
Another major issue is the geology of the formation as well. The geology is full of Methane Clathrate (AKA Methane Hydrate) deposits and gas pockets. It is also not well consolidated or impermeable. Setting off a nuke would most likely fracture the formation and cause the well to blow out even more. It was the fact that this formation is so unstable that was the cause of the well being so far behind schedule as it was. It caused the borehole to washout and "lose circulation" (I.E. the formation was absorbing the drilling mud instead of allowing it to flow back to the surface through the annulus which may have left large cavities around the casing that may not have been adequately filled with cement.) And BP compounded the problems by insisting that the weight on bit be increased to increase the penetration rate. But doing so merely fractured the formation instead of cutting it. This is what caused the wellbore to collapse and caused the drill string to get stuck in the well. BP was forced to sever the drill string with shaped charges in order to trip out of the hole, backfill with a cement plug and then drill a "sidetrack" to go around the stuck drill string. There is also concern that the heat generated by the setting cement may have caused pockets of methane hydrate to sublimate into gaseous methane, increasing the wellbore pressure far in excess of the pressures the plugs or the wellhead were designed to deal with. Can you imagine what the heat of a nuclear blast would do to this formation? It would pulverize it and cause every pocket of methane hydrate in the area to simultaneously sublimate. you could quite literally turn a huge chunk of the formation into rubble that would have no ability at all of containing all that pressure. You could turn this into the world's first subsea oil and gas volcano.
A secondary effect of the input of oil and gas on the oceanic system arises from the perturbation of the carbon and oxygen budgets in the system. Before the spill, oxygen concentrations in the water column reflected a "steady state" balance between sources (photosynthesis) and sinks (respiration). [Note that while atmospheric exchange can also be important in some cases, for the present discussion, this term will be neglected.] The direct injection of large quantities of oil and gas into the system has upset the delicate balance of oxygen in the offshore system. Basically, the oxidation of the oil and gas has stimulated respiration such that oxygen is being consumed more rapidly.than it is being supplied. We do not know what the end result of this infusion of oil and gas will be on the Gulfs oxygen budget. But, we can use well-studied coastal ecosystems to inform us of the possible consequences of extremely high organic matter loading. In coastal ecosystems, excessive inputs of inorganic nutrients and hyper-production of labile organic carbon has driven increased respiration and heterotrophic oxygen consumption leading to the formation of coastal "dead zones". Low oxygen (hypoxic) or zero oxygen (anoxic) waters have been documented in coastal systems across the globe in recent years. These dead zones are a direct result of perturbation of the carbon and oxygen budgets of these systems. Scientists ha~e previously defined an oxygen concentration of 2 mg/L as the threshold for "hypoxia"; this concentration is where many oxygen-requiring organisms begin to display symptoms of oxygen stress. Under anoxic conditions (0 mg/L oxygen), oxygen-requiring organisms are excluded from the system.
It is well known that methane and oil consumption proceed most effectively under aerobic conditions. This imbalance between oxygen inputs and outputs, if sustained over an ample period of time, could lead to hypoxia or anoxia in the water column, which would have substantial and potentially widespread negative impacts on any oxygen-requiring animal populations and on the food web of the system...
...The fate of oil in the deepwater is likely to be very different from that of surface oil because some processes that occur on the *surface do not occur at depth. Most importantly, photooxidation and evaporative loss are important terms of oil breakdown (former) and removal (latter) in surface slicks. Photo oxidative processes transform crude oil into compounds that may, or may not, be susceptible to subsequent microbial oxidation.
Neither of these processes is important in deepwater, leaving microbially mediated oxidation and perhaps sedimentation along the seabed as the primary fates of the oil. For deepwater methane, the primary fate is likely microbial oxidation whereas both microbial oxidation and evasion to the atmosphere occur close to the surface.
In the water column, oil and methane oxidation ~re often coupled to aerobic (oxygen) respiration, meaning that microbially mediated consumption of oil and methane may generate oxygen depletion. Oxygen depletion in deepwater is a significant concern because deepwater oxygen is not replenished in situ by photosynthesis (as is the case for surface waters) rather it is replenished by physical processes (12). While surface water hypoxia/anoxia might be short-lived, deepwater hypoxia/anoxia could persist for years if (likely decades). Hypoxia or anoxia would have multiple impacts on the deepwater system, including changes in microbial community composition and the associated processes they mediate, exclusion of oxygen-requiring fauna (e.g. zooplan!
On June 14th, a total of approximately 15,420 barrels of oil were collected and 33.2 million cubic feet of natural gas were flared.
HOUSTON, June 15 (Reuters) - A team of U.S. scientists on Tuesday upped their high-end estimate of the amount of crude oil flowing from BP Plc's (BP.L) (BP.N) stricken Gulf of Mexico well by 50 percent, the second major upward revision in less than a week.
The scientists said the "most likely flow rate of oil today" ranges from 35,000 to 60,000 barrels (1.47 million and 2.52 million gallons/5.57 million and 9.54 million litres) per day.
Where things stand
By Samantha Joye | Published: June 20, 2010 9:54pm
(4) What is the background spill rate of all daily operations in the Gulf? (500 platforms leaking 1 barrel a day?)
Natural oil seepage in the Gulf of Mexico amounts to about 1000 barrels a day but this is spread across the ENTIRE Gulf of Mexico rather than being focused in a single area. The BP spill is at least 40 times (40,000 barrels a day) the natural seepage rate. At this time, it is unclear how much additional oil and/or gas is introduced into the Gulf of Mexico each day due to the routine development operations related to oil and gas extraction but most likely, this number is more comparable to the rate of natural seepage than to the flux resulting from a blowout at any water depth.
(5) Any update or news on oxygen depletion in the Gulf’s waters and whether this depletion is related to the oil spill?
I am still analyzing our data but I see a consistent trend of increased oxygen depletion in plume waters with distance from the leak site. Reports of oxygen depletion in other parts of the Gulf are coming in as well. Such patterns of oxygen depletion are unusual and require additional data (so more research cruises) and careful monitoring.
(6) Couldn’t purposeful mixing of surface and deep waters solve this oxygen depletion problem.
Maybe but maybe not… The deepwater plumes are at >1000m water depth. It is not straightforward to mix those waters with surface waters. Plus, do we really want to introduce the plume waters to the surface? They could contain dispersant. We know they contain a lot of gas and some oil. We do not know enough at this point to conclude that mixing of these plume waters with surface waters would do more good than bad. Again, we need more data.
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.
In 2004 it was reported to be a growing $8-billion to $10-billion industry with over 15 billion gallons of propane being used annually in the U.S.
The energy density of propane is 46.44 megajoules per kilogram (91,690 BTU per gallon).
It is happening all across America—rural landowners wake up one day to find a lucrative offer from an energy company wanting to lease their property. Reason? The company hopes to tap into a reservoir dubbed the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” Halliburton developed a way to get the gas out of the ground—a hydraulic drilling process called “fracking”—and suddenly America finds itself on the precipice of becoming an energy superpower.
But what comes out of the ground with that “natural” gas? How does it affect our air and drinking water? GASLAND is a powerful personal documentary that confronts these questions with spirit, strength, and a sense of humor. When filmmaker Josh Fox receives his cash offer in the mail, he travels across 32 states to meet other rural residents on the front lines of fracking. He discovers toxic streams, ruined aquifers, dying livestock, brutal illnesses, and kitchen sinks that burst into flame. He learns that all water is connected and perhaps some things are more valuable than money.