Sunday, May 23, 2010

Oil in the Sea

I am constantly amazed by the media attention given to the "big" oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Apparently, it is seen as a gigantic disaster that will pollute the ocean and the shoreline for decades.  Here is  a prediction map for 23 May, from

 Click for Larger Image

Here is another map for context.  Note the small black area.  That is the major portion of the spill.  Lesser amounts are in the gray area encircling the black.

Click for Larger Image

Currently, there is only a little oil washing up, right at the Mississippi delta.  Other reports of tar balls in Alabama and further afield are consistent with natural ocean oil.  They are probably not from the spill. And the tar balls reported tonight in Key West are certainly not from the spill.  They are completely natural.

Yes, it is natural for oil to be in the ocean.  Crude oil leaks from the sea bottom, and has been washing up on shorelines for millions of years.

I am not talking about a little bit of oil here.  According to this paper, up to two million metric tons of oil per year are released by nature.  That converts to 14.6 million barrels per year.

Oil has been observed on Caribbean beaches since the time of Columbus.  I have vacationed at island resorts that provide turpentine to clean your feet of the tar you get from their "pristine" white sandy beaches.

Somehow, the fish and birds and vegetation survive.

The last large oil spills near the US were in 1969 and 1989.  I don't think a few million barrels released by mankind every 20 years or so really matters at all.  British Petroleum should plug the leak by relief drilling and mud pumping, reimburse the fishermen whose harvest is impacted, clean up any oil that makes it to shore (to a reasonable extent), determine a solution to mitigate the chance of a similar accident in the future, and simply go on.  It just isn't a big deal.

The spill in 1969 killed around 10,000 birds near Santa Barbara, California.  Heck, more than that will likely be killed with "green" wind turbines every year.

If you are still uncertain about the truth of natural oil seeps, take a look at this description that I found.  In 1846, newspaperman Edwin Bryant headed west.  His diary, when published in 1848 as "What I Saw in California", became one of the best known trail guides for the surge of people that would follow after the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill.  On page 385 of my copy, Mr. Bryant states:
On the coast, a few miles above Santa Barbara, there are, I have been told, immense quantities of pure bitumen or mineral tar, which, rising in the ocean, has been thrown upon the shore by the waves, where in a concrete state, like rosin, it has accumulated in inexhaustible masses.
People who believe in a perfect, clean, natural world are horribly mistaken.  The oceans are full of oil, and have been for millions of years.  This oil spill, despite the hype, is really not significant at all.

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