Not Particularly Surprising

Natural seeps in the Gulf of Mexico release more oil each year than even the most recent oil spill.  Somehow, nature consumes this oil with only a few tar ball showing up on beaches.  Which is why this is not hugely surprising

The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico appears to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected, a piece of good news that raises tricky new questions about how fast the government should scale back its response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The immense patches of surface oil that covered thousands of square miles of the gulf after the April 20 oil rig explosion are largely gone, though sightings of tar balls and emulsified oil continue here and there.

Reporters flying over the area Sunday spotted only a few patches of sheen and an occasional streak of thicker oil, and radar images taken since then suggest that these few remaining patches are quickly breaking down in the warm surface waters of the gulf.

  • MicroNomics

    "...raises tricky new questions about how fast the government should scale back its response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster."

    Better question:

    How fast should the government scale back it's regulatory overreaction?

    The moratorium on "deep water" drilling, which went against the advise of a panel of engineers commissioned by the Interior department, affects far more rigs and their associated support and suppliers. Green politics trumps science and economics .... again (Gore sized sigh). To be fair, all politicians support science and engineering as long as they coincided with their political agenda.

    I am not completely surprised that the environmental damage will be less than expected. Shortly after the thing blew, I searched Google Scholar for reports of damage after the massive Ixtoc I blowout. There were very few reports on the long term effects and nothing of real substance. One explanation is that Mexico owns their oil company and likely discouraged assessment of environmental damage. In contrast, the Valdez spill was studied extensively, and there the long term damage was quite limited. In fact, most of the damage came from trying to mitigate the damage. For the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico with its resident petroleum-consuming microbes, I expect much of the "missing" oil to be consumed before it is detected. An interesting study would be a meta-genomic analysis of the water column and shoreline near the spill site.

  • joshv

    I expect reports of phantom subsurface oil for months to come - massive amounts of oil lurking below the surface, poised to wreak environmental havoc. I betcha somebody will even find a way to tie in CO2 and or climate change resulting in a longer dwell time for the phantom oil.

  • sssss

    I expect reports of phantom subsurface oil for months to come – massive amounts of oil lurking below the surface, poised to wreak environmental havoc. I betcha somebody will even find a way to tie in CO2 and or climate change resulting in a longer dwell time for the phantom oil.

  • ADiff

    Perhaps the "estimates" of the actual amount of oil released might have been overstated. As I understand it these are based on indirect measurements interpreted under certain assumptions about the contents of liquid flows, themselves of an estimated volume. There's more than one source for potential error in assessment of the spill and its impacts.

  • http://evilredscandi.blogspot.com Evil Red Scandi

    Good grief, even Time Magazine is having to deal with heresy in its ranks: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2007202,00.html

    They even *gasp* *choke* agreed with Rush Limbaugh that the problem was overblown (not that I'm a huge Limbaugh fan, but credit where credit is due - he has been calling this one for awhile).

  • me

    "In fact, most of the damage came from trying to mitigate the damage."

    Very much so - although we should distinguish between the idiocy of pouring tons of toxic solvents into the sea vs trying to seal the source.

  • DrTorch

    sssss wrote:
    I expect reports of phantom subsurface oil for months to come – massive amounts of oil lurking below the surface, poised to wreak environmental havoc. I betcha somebody will even find a way to tie in CO2 and or climate change resulting in a longer dwell time for the phantom oil.

    Yes, the oil lurking below the surface is already in the news stories. They're haven't found it yet, but "scientists" are certain there's some there.

    But as for CO2, no it's better than that. 40% may have evaporated. And those hydrocarbons will be better IR absorbers, and in wavelength bands that aren't already saturated (as CO2 is) so their impact as greenhouse gases will be many times higher than CO2. This will get play (and frankly might have some validity).

  • artemis

    "Natural seeps in the Gulf of Mexico release more oil each year than even the most recent oil spill" - Where did you get this info? I'd love to have that to toss around.

  • Dr. T

    Remember the hype about the Exxon Valdez accident off the Alaskan coast? Enviroweenies ranted about ecosystem damage that would last for centuries. Ten years later it was difficult to tell which parts of the coast had been affected. Twenty years later there is no detectable damage.

    Enviroweenies repeatedly make the same two mistakes: They grossly underestimate the resiliency of nature and they grossly inflate the ability of mankind to damage the planet. They are "specieists" who believe that humans are all-powerful (in a bad way) and that all other species (and all natural forces) are weak and ineffectual when compared to humans. The ignorance of enviroweenies is exceeded only by their foolishness.

  • Pat Moffitt

    Artemis-
    The National Academies of Science in "Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects" (2003) estimated a range for natural oil seepage of 24 to 60 million gallons per year for the Gulf. And a 2000 NASA study identified some 600 natural seeps in the Gulf. This may not be the latest estimate.

    The above report concluded it was the near shore catastrophic releases from oil super tankers that produced the most environmental risk. The lesser risk was from offshore wells (farther offshore the better not necessarily deeper)in proximity to refineries.

    Some media attention has focused on this Administration's spin on the recent Nat'l Acad of Engineers drilling recommendations but have failed to appreciate the increased risks a ban on offshore drilling involves as outlined in the 2003 NAS report.

    To DrTorch-- photodegradation plays a large role in the fate of the volatile fraction

  • http://www.grouchyconservativepundits.com Mike C.

    Hardly surprising. I was telling people this months ago. The huge spill from the Kuwaiti and Iraqi loading terminals at the end of GW I dissipated far faster than predicted. Warm water environments, and especially stormy ones like the GoM, are capable of far better remediation than people can do.

  • Mike F.

    The oil is both dissolving and being eaten by petroleum consuming microbes. The microbes eat the oil, die, mostly fall to the sea floor, then become oil themselves in million of years from now. Mother Nature's way of recycling.

  • Ryan

    The extra nitrogen and phosphorous washed down the Mississippi which has created the "dead zone" is roughly the area impacted by the spill and is no doubt increasing the ability of the microbes to process the oil. I predict they will soon become very worried about the low oxygen levels in the gulf and deploy giant air pumps to aerate the water.

  • http://htisurvivors.com/node/6041 Farrah Bessard

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  • caseyboy

    Dr Torch you are correct about the global warming alarmists claiming that the evaporation will be a propellant for increased warming. And as luck would have it we just experienced a very large solar flare up, which is screwing up radio wave frequencies, enhancing the Aurora Borealis and will eventually warm up our atmosphere. Nothing to do with CO2, but that won't stop the "scientists" from using the warming data to fear monger the issue. Lets just ignore the impact of that big yellow ball in the sky.