Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gulf of Mexico: It's Not the Oil, It's the Methane

 So while the U.S. has been on tenterhooks wondering if BP finally got a proper cap on all that oil billowing out into the Gulf of Mexico, it seems that there's something even worse to worry about.

Across the great mind hive, discussions of the implications of the huge concentrations of methane gas appearing in the Gulf have caught the attention of readers who figure it would be just like BP to end the world.

DK Matai reports in Huffington Post: "As much as one million times the normal level of methane is showing up near the Gulf of Mexico oil gusher, enough potentially to create dead zones in the water." (Also here.) Even worse, great clouds of flammable gas could belch out from the earth creating catastrophic fires and explosions, says Matai.

"Even a small explosion of that methane could cause a catastrophe. Imagine what would happen if such an event occurred. Tsunamis could be generated in continuous waves. Methane and water clouds would auto-ignite and the massive fires could cause widespread destruction. Consequences could be global."

Terrence Aym writes in Helium that the disaster may be about to reach "biblical proportions." (Don't you just hate that?)

"The oil giant drilled down miles into a geologically unstable region and may have set the stage for the eventual premature release of a methane mega-bubble," Aym writes.

Aym points to warning signs that a disaster is already unfolding -- the appearance of large fissures or rifts splitting open the ocean floor, a rise in the elevation of the seabed, and the massive venting of methane and other gases into the surrounding water.

Aym and other Doomsday predictors points to studies by Northwestern University's Gregory Ryskin that link mass extinctions on Earth to massive eruptions of explosive methane gas.

But Dr. Ryskin told Business Insider that he is not predicting the end of the world on this one. The methane hydrates that have been released in large quantities in the Gulf of Mexico "may suffocate aquatic life or cause a pressure explosion. But they probably won't poison the atmosphere and destroy 96 percent of life on earth."


Gary Byerly, Professor of Geology at Louisiana State University, also put a damper on the end-of-the-world scenario: “It’s extremely unlikely that something like (an explosion and tsunami) could happen. I just don’t know how this bubble could form. You’re not going to have an explosion that deep underwater because there’s not enough oxygen down there.”

Just for the heck of it, here's a pre-Gulf disaster video from the History Channel where Dr. Ryskin explains how a prehistoric methane gas explosion could explain the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event.

Photo by Andrew Kuznetsov (Cavin), Creative Commons license

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