Oily Rain and Cracks in the Earth: Busting Gulf Oil Spill Myths
Scientists and Experts Tackle Oil Spill Myths and Misperceptions
24 comments By BILL SASSER
July 3, 2010
As the prospect of an active hurricane season adds a new dimension to the ongoing BP Gulf oil spill disaster, online media is awash with rumors of impending worst-case scenarios for the region. Viral Internet myths range from a collapsing seabed to oily rain to contaminated seafood.
Here are a few oil spill myths and misconceptions, addressed by scientists, experts and official sources:
The blown oil well has spewed so much oil and gas from the substrata of the Gulf floor that the earth around the wellhead could sink and crack, opening multiple oil gushers that could never be stopped. A variation of this scenario involves a sinkhole forming under the well that could collapse, sending tidal waves ashore, or a giant methane gas bubble exploding to similar effect.
According to Gary Byerly, a professor of geology at Louisiana State University, none of this could occur.
"The idea that there could be a catastrophic cave in, or a methane gas explosion, that's not a reasonable worry," said Byerly. "The rock formations on top of this oil deposit have enough strength that nothing like that is going to happen."
Byerly added that it's also a common misperception that all the oil in the Gulf of Mexico is part of one vast deposit, and if the well isn't capped all that oil will leak out.
"These are individual deposits that have boundaries and finite amounts of oil," he said. "But it's possible that this one deposit could leak for years before it was empty, if it wasn't capped."
Some Myths Based in Reality
Although misconceived, some of the myths regarding the blown well and surrounding seabed are based in reality, he added.
Highly pressurized methane gas, which caused the initial explosion that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig, has so far thwarted efforts to cap the well. And natural cracks that occur on the Gulf floor are in fact a source of leaking oil and gas.
"That has been going on for tens of thousands of years, and petroleum and natural gas will find any kind of fault to come to the surface," he said.