Natural oil spills happen every day…and have for thousands of years


Lest you buy into the media’s notion that oil in our oceans is as incompatible as…well…oil and water, I present you with information to disabuse you of such folk wisdom.

Science Daily reported in January 2000 that tons of oil seep into the Gulf of Mexico each year.

Using a technique they developed in the early 1990s to help explore for oil in the deep ocean, Earth Satellite Corporation scientists found that there are over 600 different areas where oil oozes from rocks underlying the Gulf of Mexico. The oil bubbles up from a cracks in ocean bottom sediments and spreads out with the wind to an to an area covering about 4 square miles.

“On water, oil has this wonderful property of spreading out really thin,” said Mitchell. “A gallon of oil can spread over a square mile very quickly.” So what ends up on the surface is an incredibly thin slick, impossible to see with the human eye and harmless to marine animals.

When oil spreads out over water, surface tension causes it to act like a super-thin sheet of Saran Wrap, flattening down small waves on the ocean surface. To spot the oil slicks, EarthSat scientists use radar data from Canadian and European satellites. The oil slicks stand out in the radar image because they return less of the radar signal than the wavy surfaces.

To get an estimate of how much oil seeps into the Gulf each year, the researchers took into account the thickness of the oil-only a hundredth of a millimeter, the area of ocean surface covered by slicks, and how long the oil remains on the surface before it’s consumed by bacteria or churned up by waves. “The number is twice the Exxon Valdez’s spill per year, and that’s a conservative estimate,” said Mitchell.

In May 2009, the International Society of Automation reported on the research of researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) who found that “Oil residue in seafloor sediments that comes from natural petroleum seeps off Santa Barbara, Calif., is equivalent to between 8 to 80 Exxon Valdez oil spills…”

There is an oil spill everyday at Coal Oil Point (COP), the natural seeps off Santa Barbara, where 20-25 tons of oil have leaked from the seafloor each day for the last several hundred thousand years.

This has implications for climate change “science”, as it were.

Climate change “experts” claim that the breakdown of fossil fuels by human beings alone causes catastrophic global warming. But has anyone asked if they are taking into account the natural breakdown of oil seeping to the ocean surface every day for millennia? From the Science Daily article:

Oil that finds its way to the surface from natural seeps gets broken down by bacteria and ends up as carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. So knowing the amount of fossil fuel that turns to carbon dioxide naturally is important for understanding how much humans may be changing the climate by burning oil and gas.

I’m not an apologist for BP. I think their handling of this has been poor to say the least. I’m in no way saying that the BP spill is not without consequences separate and apart from this seepage phenomenon. This is much more oil in a much more concentrated spot and amount per day than what is coming from natural seepage. The consequences to sea and land biology and ecosystems is going to definitely be an issue for years to come.

But the idea that only human activity causes oil slicks…or global warming…is becoming harder to defend as balanced science is reported.

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One thought on “Natural oil spills happen every day…and have for thousands of years

  1. Pingback: Mother Nature to BP/Obama: No worries. I got this. « The Right of the People

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