Let's face it, the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a precarious situation. With nobody ever experiencing a disaster like this before, there's nobody that knows what to do about it either.
Luckily we escaped Hurricane Alex, but there are still many unknown dangers needing to be addressed. I'm not a scientist, nor am I pretending to be, but I think it's important to look at the various worstcase scenarios and potential outcomes, especially in a situation never experienced before.
I report. You decide.
Merle Savage is one of those that helped cleanup the beaches in 1989 after the Exxon Valdez spill and she is trying to warn the workers in the Gulf and inform them what happened in 1989.. She wrote a book about her experience: Silence in the Sound. Her website is here. Savage explains that her health problems began almost immediately:
After working for 3 days on the oily beaches, I had a persistent cough that developed into bronchitis, headaches, sore throat, upset stomach and fatigue. On the 4th day I reported to the sick bay and was given medication by the doctor who was supplied by VECO, and on the way to my room, I fainted. I had 3 days of bed rest, but went back to work with recurring symptoms. Of the workers that I supervised 80% had the same medical problems. I wonder how many other cleanup workers, like me, went home thinking we would get better – but didn’t? The symptoms escalated until my medical condition took over my life, and was so bad that I have been unable to hold a job.
Savage breathed in crude oil and dispersant for weeks as she and her coworkers cleaned up the beaches that summer. One of the dispersants used that summer was Corexit 9580. Another was Inipol EAP22, also toxic.
Please click over and read Pat Austin's entire detailed report. She provides a lot of good information about the potential health risks workers are facing as they clean up the oil spill. It makes you wonder why the Obama administration is blocking media access to Gulf response. doesn't it?
Could the massive deposits of methane gas around the spill turn into an epic disaster?
What is happening is a massive bulge is forming around the wellhead. Reports have the seabed rising 20 feet. The reason for the bulge is methane gas. Normally, the flow from an oil well will contain around 5% methane gas. This is what you see being burned off above ground at oil wells everywhere as methane gas is the primary component of natural gas. So the threat is not one of toxicity from burning of the methane. It is the highly explosive nature of it. Reports are coming in of at least 40% methane and air samples taken around the gulf have shown levels thousands of times too high.
So the possibility exists that they cannot stop the leak even with a successful relief well intersect. And the other more sinister possibility remains. If a massive gas bulge is growing under the seabed, what if it escapes and rises to the surface? ... what will happen?[T]he gas will rise to the surface and collect just above it due to its density ... A potentially explosive pool. Any spark, perhaps by lightning, would then set off a mind-boggling explosion. A tsunami would be sure to follow, how big we can only guess. Any ships in the area would be in obvious peril.
It's said that the pressure at the bottom of the hole is anywhere up to 100,000 pounds per square inch, so if the riser pipe is broken in between the bottom and the Blowout Preventer (at the sea floor), oil is escaping into the surrounding strata, blasting through cracks and fissures, and building a potentially explosive bulge of methane gas.
The result of such an explosion would be a nightmare scenario too ... a supersonic tsunami greater in magnitude than the 2004 Indonesian tsunami which killed more than 600,000 people.
However, Washington's Blog reports that this doomsday scenario isn't credible, but the methane gas could kill all life in large areas of the Gulf.
A U.S. scientist says that methane levels in the Gulf are "astonishingly high", that 1 million times the normal level of methane gas has been found in some regions near the oil spill, high enough to create "dead zones" devoid of life.
Another scientist writes:
Researchers studying the [plumes] have found concentrations of methane up to 10,000 times greater than normal and oxygen levels depleted by 40 percent below normal.
This unprecedented release of methane into the ocean could kill all life within large swaths of the Gulf of Mexico.
But what about the potential explosion and resulting tsunami? Well, according to a study called Project "Deep Spill," the methane gas is being absorbed by the sea.
- Only 2% of the oil released in a deepwater blowout may actually make it to the surface. That’s as little as 2% naturally without the use of dispersants. Add dispersants into the equation and it could be less then one percent of oil that makes it to the surface.
- None of the methane released from the deepwater blowout made it to the surface. The study found that released natural gas may dissolve completely within the water column if it is released from a deep enough depth relative to the gas flow rate.
Another methane gas scenario is that as the gas rises to the surface, it changes the buoyancy of the water, making it lighter than air. Thus sinking ships within minutes.
According to a report in the latest New Scientist exploding Methane gas is the culprit.
"When the gas bubbles up from the surface, it lowers the density of the water, and therefore its buoyancy," marine geologist Alan Judd from the University of Sunderland told the journal. "Any ship caught above would sink as if it were in a lift shaft." People jumping overboard in lifejackets would also sink immediately.
But Project "Deep Spill" seems to put that theory to rest too.
The buoyant parts of the oil released in a deepwater blowout split from the main plume within the first 200 meters of release. Those buoyant parts, which represent only a small portion of the total amount of oil, turn into small droplets that float to the surface.
Within the first 100 to 200 meters from the source of the release the the majority of the oil loses its buoyancy and stops rising. This majority of the oil remains submerged in an underwater plume that is then carried away by subsurface currents.
I have no idea who's right or wrong, I just think it's valuable to learn about these worstcase scenarios. After all, you never know what could happen.
No matter what though, all forms of life around the gulf are going to pay a heavy toll. This disaster is very sad indeed.
We'll look at more gulf oil doomsday scenarios in a future post.