Drillers have long been wary of methane hydrates because they can pack a powerful punch. I am certain the drillers at the former Deepwater Horizon platform are very aware of this fact!
Wiki tells us: During March and April 2010, several platform workers and supervisors expressed concerns with well control. At approximately 9:45 p.m. CDT on April 20, 2010, methane gas from the well, under high pressure, shot up and out of the drill column marine riser, expanded onto the platform, and then ignited and exploded. Fire then engulfed the platform. Most of the workers were evacuated by lifeboats or were airlifted out by helicopter, but eleven workers were never found despite a three-day Coast Guard search operation, and are presumed to have died in the explosion.
It’s not only cows that emit methane honestly!
On June 18th (2010) John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer told us: Huge quantities of methane have entered the Gulf, potentially suffocating marine life and creating “dead zones” where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.
“This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history.”
Those who are studying the so called effects of Man Made (AGW) global warming, have for some time been telling us that there are vast amounts of methane hydrate in the permafrost layers, which would be released into the atmosphere, as the planet warms up.
A 2008 report from the UN says: Melting of the Arctic permafrost is a “wild card” that could dramatically worsen global warming by releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gases.
Vast amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 23-25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, are locked in the deep sea and in the frozen soils of Siberia, Northern Europe, and North America, but warming could trigger rapid thawing that would release billions of tons into the atmosphere.
“The potential consequences of large amounts of methane entering the atmosphere, from thawing permafrost or destabilized ocean hydrates, would lead to abrupt changes in the climate that would likely be irreversible. We must not cross that threshold.
Methane Hydrates are also being considered as a possible source of fuel – in place of our current dependency on oil. (Seems to me that would be replacing one poison with another!)
Methane hydrates (also called clathrates) are bubbles of methane gas trapped in a cage of ice crystals. Methane hydrate deposits occur in locations all over the world.
The most concentrated deposits occur under the Arctic Ocean, under the ocean floor on most continental shelves, in locations like the Gulf of Mexico, the Bermuda Triangle, the Dragon’s Triangle south of Japan, and in permafrost surrounding the Arctic ocean. It is reliably estimated that the amount of methane trapped as hydrates globally exceeds by many times the total combined oil, coal and natural gas reserves that have ever existed on earth.
A chunk of methane ice exposed to the air and ignited will burn until all of the methane in that ice has been consumed. Methane hydrates, however, require specific conditions of temperature and pressure to keep them contained within their ice cage. Reduce the pressure – for example, by reducing the sea level and the pressure of water above the deposit – or increased the temperature and the methane hydrate deposit becomes unstable and begins to release the trapped methane into the atmosphere.
POINT OF INTEREST: I seem to remember reading that they have ‘punctured – ruptured’ the oil reserves under the place they were attempting to drill, thereby, it seems releasing the pressure!!! Some have described the oil gushing out from there as like a volcano….. Not as an oil leak, more like a volcanic eruption – under phenomenal pressure.
In an article on Methane Hydrate Ice you find that: Recent discoveries about the existence of a vast band of Methane Hydrate Ice along the world’s continental Slopes, at approx. 500 meters depth, have revolutionized the theories of the Ice Age and Global Warming Cycles. The accumulation of Methane Ice leads to Ice Ages and the rapid melting and effervescence of this ice and gas leads to an equally rapid Global Warming.
Now about that OILY MESS currently churning in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). It has been described by some as being orange/red in colour. Although gas hydrates contain hydrocarbons that are colourless, not all of them are white like snow. Some hydrates from the deep Gulf of Mexico are richly coloured in shades of yellow, orange, or even red. (So it is not the crude that is giving the water and gloop that orangey colour?)
Almost all gas hydrates are found by drilling in sediments at 10s to 100s of meters depth, but the gulf is different. The Gulf of Mexico is the best natural laboratory in the world for studying gas hydrates because they outcrop on the seafloor as mounds and can be easily sampled in sediments.
Scientists aboard research vessels first found gas hydrates in the deep waters of the gulf in 1983 by taking core samples at sites where oil was naturally seeping out of the bottom. Hydrates have since been recovered in cores from water depths as shallow as 425 meters and at depths greater than 2000 meters.
Methane is an overlooked danger in the oil spill crisis: The crude gushing from the well contains vast amounts of natural gas that could pose a serious threat to the Gulf of Mexico’s fragile ecosystem.
The oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits. That means huge quantities of methane have entered the Gulf, scientists say, potentially suffocating marine life and creating “dead zones” where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.
Now from what I can ascertain, much of this escaping methane is being held down in the water, depleting the water of its much needed oxygen – the source of life for microbes (those things that eat the sludge) and all aquatic life. Atmospheric measurements just above the water do not show elevated readings of the gas, so the scientists believe it is held at depth, and spreading in what they are calling “plumes” – horizontal layers of gas and oil. Remember those plumes did not exist according to BP!
(Just a thought here, but will that under water methane get released into the atmosphere when the sea churns – as it is likely to do in hurricane season?)
Remember those missing planes and ships–in the Bermuda Triangle?
Older documents indicate that the subterranean geological formation below the “Macondo” well in the Gulf of Mexico may contain the presence of a huge methane deposit. It has been a well known fact that the methane in that oil deposit was problematic. As a result, there was a much higher risk of a blow out.
By some geologists’ estimates, the methane could be a massive bubble trapped for thousands of years under the Gulf of Mexico sea floor. More than a year ago, geologists expressed alarm in regard to BP and Transocean putting their exploratory rig directly over this massive underground reservoir of methane. Warnings were raised before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe that the area of seabed chosen might be unstable and inherently dangerous.
Methane and Poison Gas Bubble: The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found high concentrations of gases in the Gulf of Mexico area. The escape of other poisonous gases associated with an underground methane bubble — such as hydrogen sulfide, benzene and methylene chloride — have also been found. Recently, the EPA measured hydrogen sulfide at more than 1,000 parts per billion (ppb) — well above the normal 5 to 10 ppb. Some benzene levels were measured near the Gulf of Mexico in the range of 3,000 to 4,000 ppb — up from the normal 0 to 4 ppb. Benzene gas is water soluble and is a carcinogen at levels of 1,000 ppb according to the EPA. Upon using a GPS and depth finder system, experts have discovered a large gas bubble, 15 to 20 miles wide and tens of feet high, under the ocean floor. These bubbles are common. Some even believe that the rapid release of similar bubbles may have caused the sinking of ships and planes in the Bermuda Triangle.
50,000 to 100,000 PSI: The intractable problem is that this methane, located deep in the bowels of the earth, is under tremendous pressure. Experts agree that the pressure that blows the oil into the Gulf waters is estimated to be between 30,000 and 70,000 pounds per square inch (psi). Some speculate that the pressure of the methane at the base of the well head, deep under the ocean floor, may be as high as 100,000 psi — far too much for current technology to contain. The shutoff valves and safety measures were only built for thousands of psi at best. There is no known device to cap a well with such an ultra high pressure.
Oxygen Depletion: The crude oil from the “Macondo” well, which is damaging the Gulf of Mexico, contains around 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits. Scientists warn that gases such as methane, hydrogen sulfide and benzene, along with oil, are now depleting the oxygen in the water and are beginning to suffocate marine life creating vast “dead zones”. As small microbes living in the sea feed on oil and natural gas, they consume large amounts of oxygen which they require in order to digest food, ie, convert it into energy. There is an environmental ripple effect: when oxygen levels decrease, the breakdown of oil can’t advance any further.
According to geologists, the first signs that the methane may burst its way through the bottom of the ocean would be manifest via fissures or cracks appearing on the ocean floor near the path of least resistance, ie, the damaged well head. Evidence of fissures opening up on the seabed have been captured by the robotic midget submarines working to repair and contain the ruptured well. Smaller, independent plumes have also appeared outside the nearby radius of the bore hole. When reviewing video tapes of the live BP feeds, one can see in the tapes of mid-June that there is oil spewing up from visible fissions. Geologists are pointing to new fissures and cracks that are appearing on the ocean floor.
Fault Areas: The stretching and compression of the earth’s crust causes minor cracking, called faults, and the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico has many such fault areas. Fault areas run along the Gulf of Mexico and well inland in Mexico, South and East Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the extreme western Florida Panhandle. The close coupling of new fissures and cracks with natural fault areas could prove to be lethal.
Bubble Eruption: A methane bubble this large — if able to escape from under the ocean floor through fissures, cracks and fault areas — is likely to cause a gas explosion. With the emerging evidence of fissures, the tacit fear now is this: the methane bubble may rupture the seabed and may then erupt with an explosion within the Gulf of Mexico waters. The bubble is likely to explode upwards propelled by more than 50,000 psi of pressure, bursting through the cracks and fissures of the sea floor, fracturing and rupturing miles of ocean bottom with a single extreme explosion.
Cascading Catastrophe Scenarios
1. Loss of Buoyancy: Huge methane gas bubbles under a ship can cause a sudden buoyancy loss. This causes a ship to tilt adversely or worse. Every ship, drilling rig and structure within a ten mile radius of the escaping methane bubble would have to deal with a rapid change in buoyancy, causing many oil structures in its vicinity to become unstable and ships to sink. The lives of all the workers, engineers, coast guard personnel and marine biologists — measuring and mitigating the oil plumes’ advance and assisting with the clean up — could be in some danger. Therefore, advanced safety measures should be put in place.
2. First Tsunami with Toxic Cloud: If the toxic gas bubble explodes, it might simultaneously set off a tsunami travelling at a high speed of hundreds of miles per hour. Florida might be most exposed to the fury of a tsunami wave. The entire Gulf coastline would be vulnerable, if the tsunami is manifest. Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and southern region of Georgia might experience the effects of the tsunami according to some sources.
3. Second Tsunami via Vaporisation: After several billion barrels of oil and billions of cubic feet of gas have been released, the massive cavity beneath the ocean floor will begin to normalise, allowing freezing water to be forced naturally into the huge cavity where the oil and gas once were. The temperature in that cavity can be extremely hot at around 150 degrees Celsius or more. The incoming water will be vaporised and turned into steam, creating an enormous force, which could actually lift the Gulf floor. According to computer models, a second massive tsunami wave might occur.
The danger of loss of buoyancy and cascading tsunamis in the Gulf of Mexico — caused by the release of the massive methane and poisonous gas bubble — has been a much lower probability in the early period of the crisis, which began on April 20th. However, as time goes by and the risk increases, this low probability high impact scenario ought not to be ignored, given that the safety and security of the personnel involved remains paramount. Could this be how nature eventually seals the hole created by the Gulf of Mexico oil gusher?
Readers please note that some (not all) of my thoughts and musings in this blog are based on an article which appeared at the Huntington Post written by DK Matai. Chairman: mi2g, ATCA, The Philanthropia. There is quite a conversation taking place over at that site right now, questioning wether in fact DK Matai has his facts right. I do suggest you go over and read all about it. It sure makes very interesting reading.
REFERENCES used writing this blog – click links for data etc.
Gulf Spill – Pesky Hydrates
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