Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Biggest ocean oil spill ever

Almost nobody knows about the biggest ocean oil spill in history. Can you guess who is responsible?

Wrong, it's not the demon Big Oil, it's Gaia, the Green Goddess, Mother Nature. More oil is spilled naturally on earth than the amount of oil spilled by people.

As described on Green, a NY Times blog:

Natural seeps turned out to account for 600 kilotons annually, or 47 percent of the total. Consumption — from such activities as boating, urban runoff and industrial wastes — came in second at 480 kilotons, or 38 percent of the total. In third place were releases from such transportation-related activities as leaky pipes, tanker spills and cargo-hold washings. They amounted to 160 kilotons annually, or 12 percent of the total.

In last place were releases to the sea that tend to make headlines — those associated with oil extraction, like the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20. Globally, that kind of release amounted to 38 kilotons annually, or 3 percent of the total.

These figures are credible, they come from the US National Research Council.

Does this mean it's OK for Big Oil to be reckless with their drilling units? No, there are differences that matter in the timing and speed of oil leaking from Gaia's oil fields.

Size matters, and so does speed and style.

Biological systems are evolved to handle the the oil and gas coming from seeps, and many bugs and creatures live off the oil and gas, by breaking it down into food. But dump a tanker-load of oil on top of those "oil-eating" bugs and beasts, and they get overwhelmed. Natural oil seeps can be big enough to cause harm, but the harm tends to be small and localized.

Natural oil seeps (note that word--SEEP) leak oil and gas slowly, bit-by-bit, in a spread out array of sources all over the world. Sort of like solar energy spread out over the whole planet. But Big Oil's blowouts gush oil hard, fast, and huge, more like focusing sunlight with a lens into a destructive super-hot death beam.

Natural oil seeps are more like the drip, drip, drip of oil that leaks off humanity's infrastructure, roads, ships, ballast water exchange, etc. And this man-made drip, drip, drip, which is actually a bigger source of oil to the ocean than big oil spills, is still smaller than natural oil seeps. What is the effect of our slow leaks of oil? Because of the diffuse nature of these sources, they're less likely to swamp whole areas with oil, compared to a big spill. But in contained water bodies like Seattle's Puget Sound, they can have a big impact.

Based on the style of spill and harm the championship for causing the most harm from spilled oil goes to Big Oil and the Big Spills. At least, that's my guess. I'm not sure we can measure and prove who's the winner.

1 comment:

m said...

Thanks for sharing!!!

Now a days more and more incidents are visible about ship loaded with oils submerge midway in the sea causing an environmental imbalance.
After the oil spill over in the ocean environmentalist use bacteria or solvents to dissolve or break the oil molecules.This efforts of them is ruin as the bacteria causes a drop in the oxygen level of that region and consequently result in the death of aquatic spices.
So I beg you all users try to make limited use of gasolines.