Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gulf of Mexico: Cauldron of Doom

Statements of Texas A & M oceanographer Dr. John Kessler, as reported in the press in late June following his expedition to the Gulf spill site, have been cause for some alarm...

Reuters: Methane in Gulf 'astonishingly high' - US scientist

"There is an incredible amount of methane in there"

AP: Vast Amounts of Methane in Gulf Spill Pose Threat

"This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history"

At the time of this draft, links to Kessler's Gulf methane study at Texas A & M are dead, but we snagged the following from Google's cache...

Oceanographer John Kessler analyzes methane levels from oil spill site

Preliminary results show concentrations at some points to be a million times higher than normal, researcher says John Kessler, a chemical oceanographer in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University, is currently analyzing methane levels in water collected from seven miles to 500 meters from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead.

Preliminary results, he says, point to high concentrations of the gas. "Methane levels ranged from 10,000 to nearly 1 million times higher in some spots than normal concentration," Kessler said.

The 10-day cruise, which was funded by a National Science Foundation Rapid Response grant, returned June 21 with nearly 1 million data points gathered. Since that time, he and his colleagues have been analyzing the results in the shore-based lab at Texas A&M.

Ramifications are multifold, Kessler said. He called the site a natural laboratory in which to better assess the effect of methane on global climate change. Naturally occurring methane seeps have been linked to rapid climate change. For instance, an event occurring 55 million years ago may have caused one of these spikes, scientists believe. So the Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster may, at least, help scientists better understand and perhaps predict methane effects on global temperatures.

Results also indicate that oxygen levels at some deepwater sites were 30 percent lower, while other sites remained unaffected. "This presents a puzzle that we cannot resolve without further research," Kessler says.

In an interview with the Living on Earth radio show, Kessler added:

The ocean floor is just an absolutely enormous reservoir of methane. And there are implications that this reservoir has erupted its methane in the past, contributed this methane to the atmosphere in certain abrupt climate change events. This anthropogenic event that we are currently in the midst of, actually simulates one of those previous eruptions on how it is emitting its methane to the water so rapidly.

Kessler doesn't specify which of the previous methane eruptions is currently being simulated, but the following article makes a few suggestions...

SalemNews: Doomsday: How BP Gulf Disaster May Have Triggered a 'World-Killing' Event

251 million years ago a mammoth undersea methane bubble caused massive explosions, poisoned the atmosphere and destroyed more than 96 percent of all life on Earth. Experts agree that what is known as the Permian extinction event was the greatest mass extinction event in the history of the world.

55 million years later another methane bubble ruptured causing more mass extinctions during the Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum...

Those subterranean seas of methane virtually reshaped the planet when they explosively blew from deep beneath the waters of what is today called the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, worried scientists are increasingly concerned the same series of catastrophic events that led to worldwide death back then may be happening again-and no known technology can stop it.

The bottom line: BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling operation may have triggered an irreversible, cascading geological Apocalypse that will culminate with the first mass extinction of life on Earth in many millions of years.

Is this just journalistic hyperbole? The answer is likely yes, but only if in reference to the methane that has already been released. Of greater concern is the methane that could yet be released if the geological formations around the well head should collapse, and a giant methane bubble should arise...

Presently, BP is maintaining its recently installed cap on the leak, despite concerns that the plug could be increasing the seepage of the oil-methane mixture into the surrounding geological structures. Said Dr. Don Van Nieuwenhuise of the Professional Geosciences Program at the University of Houston on CNN Sunday...

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…

The tone of Coast Guard National Incident Commander Thad Allen's letter to BP's Robert Dudley last weekend suggests a heightened concern over this possibility...

Given the current observations from the test, including the detected seep a distance from the well and undetermined anomalies at the well head, monitoring of the seabed is of paramount importance during the test period. As a continued condition of the test, you are required to provide as a top priority access and coordination for the monitoring systems, which include seismic and sonar surface ships and subsea ROV and acoustic systems. When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the government in no more than four hours. I direct you to provide me a written procedure for opening the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the well should hydrocarbon seepage near the well head be confirmed.

An AP update on the story Sunday suggests that the situation underneath could be worsening, and that BP is not complying with the Allen's demands...

A federal official says scientists are concerned about a seep and possible methane near BP's busted oil well in the Gulf of Mexico

Both could be signs there are leaks in the well that's been capped off for three days.

The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Sunday because an announcement about the next steps had not been made yet.

The official is familiar with the spill oversight but would not clarify what is seeping near the well. The official says BP is not complying with the government's demand for more monitoring.

For more on all this...

Phoenix Rising from the Gulf: PRESSURE at the Wellhead

OilDrum: BP's Deepwater Oil Spill - Bubble, Bubble Oil and Trouble

Meanwhile, the body count on the world wide wrath of methane increases...

Columbia Reports: Last bodies recovered from coal mine disaster

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