Joye's earlier research on the spill has focused on methane and similar gases spewing along with the oil from the broken well a mile deep in the Gulf near the Louisiana coast. Joye's research team measured methane concentrations in some places 100,000 times normal levels.
Much of that methane remains in the deep water, and may be causing "dead zones," where fish and other marine life have a tough time breathing. As methane-eating bacteria multiply and break down the gas, they also use up oxygen in the water.
"It looks like most of the gas is being trapped in the deep subsurface (water)," she said.
Another team of scientists recently reported an area of oxygen-depleted water is approaching Mobile Bay in Alabama, welling up from deep water farther away from the coast, she said.
Meanwhile, the giant plumes of contamination gushing from the spill are spreading to affect more and more of the Gulf.
And national science leaders have not yet come up with a coordinated research plan to measure the impact of the spill, already the largest in North American history.
Although Joye and other scientists suspect methane could be the biggest threat to Gulf marine life, there is no systematic effort to measure the gas in Gulf waters, she said.
"There's got to be a meeting of the minds," she said. "I don't understand how we're as far into this as we are without a meeting (to coordinate research efforts)."
The flow of methane into the deep waters may not stop even if BP engineers figure out how to stop the volcanic flow of oil - estimated by the government at as much as 100,000 barrels a day.
Crews hired by BP are drilling relief wells designed to intersect the broken well below the seabed.
The wells could stop the flow of oil, but methane could seep into the broken well from the damaged casing in the 18,000 feet of pipe that runs from the mile-deep sea floor to the oil reservoir.
Stopping the oil leak at least would reduce the methane flow, Joye said.
"It would certainly be higher than a natural seep, but nothing like what we've been seeing," she said.
Originally posted by apacheman
Has anyone else noted that for the last couple of weeks at least one ROV has been either scanning the sea floor or observing apparently empty water but for the white squigglies zipping about?
The bit about the ROVs staring at empty water bugged me. It finally occurred to me that they might be dissolving methane hydrate bits and BP was trying to get a handle on how fast the hydrates on the seafloor around the wellhead were dissolving. Add that surmise to watching the seafloor, and it adds up to a lot more methane entering the water than is being publicly acknowledged.
Now, if enough dissolves in the water, bouyancy characteristics can be drastically altered to the point of not being able to float a ship . If a ship suddenly and inexplicably sinks, it should be interpreted as an example of the canary-in-the-coal-mine forewarning of impending huge shoreline disaster.
If such an event occurs, I advise people to withdraw from the coasts by at least ten or twenty miles for awhile.
[edit on 23-6-2010 by apacheman]
The number of naturally occurring microbes that eat methane grew surprisingly fast inside a plume spreading from BP's ruptured oil well, an oceanographer who was one of the first to detect the plumes said Tuesday.
Samantha Joye, a marine sciences professor at the University of Georgia at Athens, said it's good news that the microbes are eating the methane. However, the microbes also use oxygen in the water, and Joye said the repercussions of the resulting oxygen depletion aren't yet known.
Joye said she hadn't completed her analysis yet but that the data so far show the microbes are much more abundant in the plume than they are in the water layers above and below it.
In lab experiments, the number of microbes nearly doubled in a 24-hour period.
"That's really, really surprising," Joye said. "Clearly the microbial community is responding rapidly and rigorously to the input of oil and gas."
July 14, 2010
Dr. Tom Termotto, National Coordinator for Gulf Oil Spill Remediation Conference, (International Citizens´ Initiative) in Tallahassee, FL , has issued a very important and excellent Press Release in regard to the disastrous consequences of methane gas associated with the BP Gulf Oil Spill. I am urging everyone to read very carefully the following information from Dr. Tom Termotto´s outstanding press release.
"How's the weather down there?" When we ask each other this question, aren't we really asking, "How are the elements (elementals) treating us?" Well this question will never be more important to the residents rimming the Gulf of Mexico as we gear up for a long, hot, deep south summer with its likely share of hurricanes, tropical storms and depressions, which, by the way, can be a good or bad thing for "natural" oil spill remediation depending on a numerous factors and circumstances.
Back to the methane issue and the volumes of gas that are currently pouring into the Gulf by way of the gushing well, as well as the many leaks and seeps, cracks and fissures, which have provided entry into the water from a growing area around the wellhead. Some who are privy to authoritative info have pointed directly to a large gash, as well as other smaller gashes, which have opened up in the seafloor throughout the area since the wellhead first blew. The current flow of oil out of the riser is approximately 35% of the total volume of outflow. Much of the remaining composition is methane, some of which may be burned off by the flames which appear on a screenshot from the live feed at the link below :
Some of the leaks and seeps that have appeared since April 20th are the result of the venting of the enormous pressures of this very deep high compression well. Various experts in the Oil & Gas Exploration and Drilling Industry have speculated this pressure to be as high as 100,000 psi which would explain much of the erratic behavior of this unprecedented gusher. It has functioned as a humongous sandblaster of sorts, which will therefore make it difficult to even keep a cap on it for any extended period of time. When you drill through the earth's crust and into the mantle at depths of 20,000 to 35000 feet, the Russians have consistently encountered pressures far exceeding those that exist in more shallow prospects. They also understand that such pressures demand a proportionate upgrade in technology and equipment (which did not happen with the Deepwater Horizon), if catastrophic blowouts are to be avoided.
The more serious issue here is that the surrounding seafloor is being profoundly undermined, hence the foundation of the wellhead is progressively weakening thereby creating new exit points for methane gas. Many seasoned observers have noted that there has been a piercing of the wellhead itself. This predicament will necessitate a unique and more thorough response, if the outflow is to be completely stopped. Or, if all the oil and gas is to be captured by a "containment and capture" solution.
Another major source of methane gas comes from frozen hydrate crystals which exist on the sea floor in vast quantities. Due to very cold temperatures and high pressure, they stay locked in place until they are awakened from their slumber by the very conditions that now predominate in the region around the wellhead. The gushing oil may be as hot as 300 to 400 F, which greatly affects the undersea dynamics, and especially the state of these hydrates. Also, it is quite noteworthy that we have no experience with the introduction of massive volumes of dispersants at the wellhead under those extraordinary conditions. What will be the ultimate effects on methane conversion and release throughout the region in terms of ramping up an already very dynamic and volatile situation on the seafloor? More significantly, what are the unforeseen consequences to the water (perhaps aquacide) and the fragile ecosystems that abound there?
There are other sources of methane, which occur under the seafloor in various types of "repositories", that are being affected by movements of the earth, as well as by dramatic temperature fluctuations. These reservoirs are undoubtedly releasing methane gas, as are the seafloor surface beds of trapped frozen methane crystals. Almost all of the released methane gas from these sources will eventually rise to the surface of the Gulf, some of it accumulating as hovering gas bubbles which will then dissipate over time. They concentrate and disperse, come and go according to the scientific properties of
methane gas behavior.
Methane does have a very deleterious effect on all aerobic marine life in that it depletes oxygen very rapidly in water. This is the biggest concern, and can have greater impact on life than the toxicity of both the oil and the dispersants combined, dangerous interactions and all. We state the obvious when we say that all aerobic organisms needs oxygen, and that such life will die very quickly when oxygen concentrations drops below critical thresholds (How long would you live holding your breath under water?!). As the methane rises through the higher layers of the Gulf of Mexico aquatic strata where the water is warmer, this problem becomes worse due to the fact that warmer water simply holds less oxygen than cold water.
David Valentine, a professor of earth science at UCSB, recently returned from a research cruise of the Gulf after he proposed a new method for quantifying the scope of the spill. Valentine, who received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the spill, has done extensive research on microorganisms that consume the natural gas and other hydrocarbons that seep from the Santa Barbara seafloor.
Valentine said his team has been monitoring the concentration of natural gas around the spill and noticed that the gas has been dissolving in the water and displacing oxygen.
“We can say we see large-scale layers of natural gas around the spill site,” Valentine said. “Within six-eight miles around the spill, there are trapped layers of natural gas at around 10-100,000 times natural background levels. There is a significant loss of oxygen [in the water], between five to 35 percent from where the levels should be.”
The presence of millions of gallons of additional natural gas in the spill area, Valentine said, will have a disastrous effect on ecosystems surrounding the region, and could accelerate growth from the oil-consuming microorganisms.
In fact, these microorganisms probably have the most to gain from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Clearly, the hydrocarbons are going to affect them,” Valentine said. “Hydrocarbon oxidizers will become ecologically dominant.”
Since these microorganisms are currently so low on the food chain, Leifer said, what affects these microorganisms’ survival and success will have much larger consequences throughout the food chain.
“The focus has primarily been on … things that people eat,” Leifer said. “The concern I would have is in the … the very low levels of the food chain, because if they are affected by the oil, the oil affects [the rest of the food chain].”
According to Valentine, he and his team were also interested in what impact the use of synthetic dispersants has had on seawater composition and local marine life, including these oil-hungry microorganisms.
“Microorganisms produce their own dispersants, so we would like to see how factory-produced dispersants affect them, as well as how they disperse and consume the oil.” Valentine said.
In addition to the increased amount of methane, the SRI tests "did show indications that the methane was further up in the water column than we had seen it before," said Carol Lutken of the University of Mississippi, which is part of a consortium with SRI that has been doing the tests.
The findings from SRI are not the first to suggest that Deepwater Horizon is gushing methane as well as oil. Scientists from Texas A&M who tested the water within 5 miles of Deepwater Horizon reported finding methane concentrations that were 100,000 times higher than normal.
However they do suggest that the methane may be spreading throughout the gulf just like the underwater plumes of oil found by oceanographers from the University of South Florida and other academic institutions.
SRI is still analyzing the results. "We're still trying to understand what those things are telling us," Langebrake said.
SRI, based in Menlo Park, Calif., is the nonprofit scientific research institute that began as the research arm of Stanford University. In 2006 St. Petersburg persuaded the company to open a marine technology operation here to take advantage of research being produced at nearby state and federal facilities. Its offices opened last year near Albert Whitted Airport.
SRI is part of a consortium of institutions that has been studying natural seeps in the ocean floor for what until recently was known as the U.S. Minerals Management Service. The seeps come from deposits of methane gas that, because they are so deep beneath the ocean, have frozen into icy crystals.
Disturbing those deposits — say, by drilling an oil well through them — can turn that solid methane into a liquid, leaving the ocean floor unstable, explained Lutken.
Worse, the freed gas may explode. One theory on the cause of the Deepwater Horizon disaster blames a methane gas bubble for causing the explosion and fire that sank the rig. There have been rumors that a similar methane explosion could cause a tsunami, a concern that government officials say is unfounded.
Generally the oil industry tries to avoid methane areas during drilling for safety reasons. But the U.S. Energy Department wants to find a way to harvest fuel from those methane deposits, Lutken said.
For its research, the consortium persuaded the government to let it take over an area of the gulf floor that turned out to be in the same deepwater canyon as BP's well, Lutken said. But they're to the northwest and on a slope, just over half a mile deep, while Deepwater Horizon's well is a mile below the surface.
That means that the methane in higher levels that SRI discovered during the most recent tests on June 25 and 26 has apparently been flowing upslope, Lutken said.
What may turn out to be as important as those higher methane readings, though, are the earlier test results from research cruises before the oil rig explosion, she said, because they offer a snapshot of what "normal" should look like.
"We have what it was like in the neighborhood before Deepwater Horizon occurred," she said.
CNN: Why do we think there is seepage? Tell me about this and what the implications are?
Don Van Nieuwenhuise, director of Professional Geosciences Programs at the University of Houston: They’ve seen a little bit of a spike in the methane content around the well… but not bubbles. So as far as BP is concerned there is no leak there
But some distance — and I still haven’t heard what that distance is — away from that, they actually can see some methane escaping at the surface and is essentially bubbling through the strata.
And in that case it’s possible that some of the sands below the surface have been charged with oil and gas…
The gas will leak out first, and then later on the oil will start to leak out.
CNN: You mentioned they are seeing methane… what are the implications of methane? Why do we now have to be concerned with methane?…
Nieuwenhuise: If a well is completely sealed-in you do not want to see an increase in methane…
One of the most serious situations would be is that if you have a leak very close to the well head and you could have a potential erosion of the substrate or the rocks around that well head that could cause it to collapse if the flow increased enough…
Dori Smith: …to what the percentage of oil versus methane is in any of the leaks that have been identified, either on the cap area of the well or in any plumes nearby within the radius that you’ve been looking at, concerned, of course, about the pressure?
Thad Allen: We believe, especially around the current blowout preventer the capping stack that it is a mixture of the hydrocarbon column itself, which would be some mixture of oil, some natural gas, and some water. The existence of hydrates on the blowout preventer and the capping stack is indeed that there is gas there because the gas combined with the cold water and pressure is what produces hydrates. So there is some amount of methane gas in that.
The exact percentages, we have taken samples and they’re being analyzed ashore. Some samples done on scene based on the samples that were taken in around the wellhead indicated there was about 16 percent methane, but that needs to be validated by a shore test.
Dori Smith: And can you finally, on follow up, tell us is – has BP or has anyone identified new plumes or new leaks beyond what were already being studied in the vicinity?
Thad Allen: What we have asked BP to do is actually number these events so we can follow them. And I can take you through the general grouping of them. On the 17th of July, that was the event that we noted that was three kilometers southwest of the wellhead that we now have attributed to be in place before this started, probably attributable to another well.
Then we had a series of anomalies that were detected on the 18th of July. And these are just differences in density and return on both the seismic and the acoustic sensors. They were investigated with ROVs. They thought there might be some plumes. There were some gas bubbles brewing and they were followed up with ROVs. There were no other indications observed, and we closed out on those.
Following that, on the 19th is when we started to observe the bubbles around the current wellhead in the blowout preventer. Those have already been reported. And these are emanated from the wellhead itself through gaskets and seals that happen to be leaking.
And finally, we found another leak just yesterday in the BOP in the annular preventer. That’s the upper part of the BOP or the lower marine riser package. And that’s attributed to a leak in a gasket as well.
I think what you’re generally starting to see is from the blowout preventer—it’s been down there a long time under a lot of stress. And just like any other piece of equipment, we’re starting to see some small leaks around it. But that’s been it so far”. ) From Joint Task force transcript..7/21/2010
The deep-sea hydrocarbon discharge resulting from the BP oil well blowout in the northern Gulf of Mexico released large quantities of oil and gaseous hydrocarbons such as methane into the deep ocean. So far, estimates of hydrocarbon discharge have focused on the oil released, and have overlooked the quantity, fate and environmental impact of the gas1. Gaseous hydrocarbons turn over slowly in the deep ocean, and microbial consumption of these gases could have a long-lasting impact on oceanic oxygen levels. Here, we combine published estimates of the volume of oil released together with provisional estimates of the oil to gas ratio of the discharged fluid to determine the volume of gaseous hydrocarbons discharged during the spill. We estimate that the spill injected up to 500,000 t of gaseous hydrocarbons into the deep ocean and that these gaseous emissions comprised 40% of the total hydrocarbon discharge. Analysis of water around the wellhead revealed discrete layers of dissolved hydrocarbon gases between 1,000 and 1,300 m depth; concentrations exceeded background levels by up to 75,000 times. We suggest that microbial consumption of these gases could lead to the extensive and persistent depletion of oxygen in hydrocarbon-enriched waters.
Massive Flux of Gas, in Addition to Liquid Oil, at BP Well Blowout in Gulf
ScienceDaily (Feb. 14, 2011) — A new University of Georgia study that is the first to examine comprehensively the magnitude of hydrocarbon gases released during the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil discharge has found that up to 500,000 tons of gaseous hydrocarbons were emitted into the deep ocean. The authors conclude that such a large gas discharge -- which generated concentrations 75,000 times the norm -- could result in small-scale zones of "extensive and persistent depletion of oxygen" as microbial processes degrade the gaseous hydrocarbons.
The Macondo Well blowout discharged not only liquid oil, but also hydrocarbon gases, such as methane and pentane, which were deposited in the water column. Gases are normally not quantified for oil spills, but the researchers note that in this instance, documenting the amount of hydrocarbon gases released by the blowout is critical to understanding the discharge's true extent, the fate of the released hydrocarbons, and potential impacts on the deep oceanic systems. The researchers explained that the 1,480-meter depth of the blowout (nearly one mile) is highly significant because deep sea processes (high pressure, low temperature) entrapped the released gaseous hydrocarbons in a deep (1,000-1,300m) layer of the water column. In the supplementary online materials, the researchers provide high-definition photographic evidence of the oil and ice-like gas hydrate flakes in the plume waters.
Joye said the methane and other gases likely will remain deep in the water column and be consumed by microbes in a process known as oxidation, which en masse can lead to low-oxygen waters.
"We're not talking about extensive hypoxic areas offshore in the Gulf of Mexico," Joye explained. "But the microbial oxidation of the methane and other alkanes will remove oxygen from the system for quite a while because the time-scale for the replenishment of oxygen at that depth is many decades."
Leifer added that some of the larger gaseous hydrocarbons documented, such as pentane, have significant health implications for humans and potentially for marine life.
Joye’s team examined samples from 70 sites around the leaking wellhead during a research cruise aboard the R/V Walton Smith during late May and early June of 2010. They combined their data with estimates of the volume of oil released to arrive at a figure that allows scientists to quantify, for the first time, the gas discharge in terms of equivalent barrels of oil. They calculated a gas discharge that’s the equivalent of either 1.6 to 1.9 or 2.2 to 3.1 million barrels of oil, depending on the method used. Although the estimate reflects the uncertainty still surrounding the discharge, even the lowest magnitude represents a significant increase in the total hydrocarbon discharge.
Joye cautioned against assuming that microbes will rapidly consume the gases released from the well. Undoubtedly, the methane is a feast for them, Joye said, but she also noted that the microbes need nutrients, such as nitrogen, copper and iron. These nutrients are in scarce supply in the Gulf’s deep waters, Joye said, and once they are depleted the microbes will cease to grow—regardless of how much methane is available.