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The Gulf oil slick seems to be going away

An interesting piece about how the oil slick disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Something is getting attention: there is not as much of an oil spill as some might suppose. Apparently, in warm water like this, and due to certain acquatic organisms, the oil is gradually absorbed. It is, in a manner of speaking, gobbled up. (Belch).

That got me thinking that yes, oil slicks caused by human error are obviously going to cause a lot of anger and lead to tort lawsuits from affected parties, such as fishing businesses and owners of beachfront property, but then again, what about an oil leak that is caused by tectonic shifts in the Earth’s crust? In some geological areas, oil leaks of its own accord, sometimes in very large amounts. Which suggests that oil-cleaning technologies are a useful thing to invest in even if there were no offshore drilling.

None of this should, of course, remove any heat off those oil firms and contractors responsible for this disaster – which is what it is – nor indeed of the US government for its tardy response. However, it might help if more folk acknowledged that oil is the stuff of nature, and you know what, this stuff tends to move around occasionally, even without Man’s assistance.

(Apols for my light blogging of late and thanks to the others for all the great articles. I have been incredibly busy of late).

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9 comments to The Gulf oil slick seems to be going away

  • I wonder what part the pressure of the water at those depths has to do with this? If it can crush a badly designed submarine’s pressure hull . What (if anything does) it do to hydrocarbon molecules ?

  • Taylor,

    Not much. Compared to the pressures at the depths the stuff is coming from the ocean depths are a bit of a relief.

  • Nothing to do with pressure or the lack of it. Hydrocarbon molecules decompose readily under even low levels of ultraviolet radiation, such as gets to the Gulf of Mexico on an averagely fine day. They then become reactive intermediates which join the normal carbon cycles of this planet (which has a reactive and oxidising atmosphere), becoming CO2 which is really the best destiny for them right now, and also other less useful things, like formaldehyde and glucose etc.

    WE do not need to do anything at all, about a block of crude oil which probably measured 100 x 100 x 200 cubic metres, or about 2 million cubic metres and 1.5 million tons. The Seas will wash it away with oblivion in about a quarter of a year.

  • Laird

    I appreciate that information, David Davis, not being a chemist myself. I wish more people were talking about this. But if decomposition requires UV radiation, what happens to the oil which is below the surface or even on the ocean floor (and I understand some of it is down there for some reason)? And what happens to the crude oil which has already washed up on the beaches? Will it dissipate in a similar fashion, or will only the volatile elements evaporate leaving long-term residual sludge?

  • Eric

    The area already has natural oil seepage (albeit at a much lower rate), so the oil munching bacteria were already there waiting for something like this to happen. And bacterial growth is exponential as long as conditions are right.

    Apparently the big worry now is all that oil was converted into methane and the water has 1000x the normal amount of methane in solution. The environmentalists say it’ll ruin the area forever, so I figure the methane will be be pretty much gone in a few weeks.

  • Mike Lorrey

    It isn’t so much that the oil is gone, but that its not visible. Dispersants and weather cause the oil to, as the definition says, disperse, into the water column. All that oil is still out there, just more dilute. Oil droplets are being found in crab larvae already. The photo ops are over, but the problem persists.

  • Laird

    “The photo ops are over, but the problem persists.”

    Ah, but is it, in fact, a “problem”? If the oil is that dilute, and the particles that tiny, is it going to cause any real harm?

  • Mike Lorrey

    Oil droplets are now turning up in crab larvae. While the oil is dispersed, this only makes it more available for the fauna to ingest more easily and get poisoned by it, rather than just coating a few photogenic birds. Plus the toxicity of the dispersant, of which it is said BP dumped a million gallons of dispersants, which is a pretty damn huge toxic spill in its own right. It is merely a matter of degrees that dispersant is slightly less toxic than oil…

  • Verity

    It’s one of those “quelle surprise!” moments.

    Eric: “The environmentalists say it’ll ruin the area forever, so I figure the methane will be be pretty much gone in a few weeks.” Sounds about right.

    May take longer to dispel the methane coming out of Al Gore & Co’s arse.