80 times more oil seeps naturally than in biggest spill

May 14th, 2009 - 4:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 14 (IANS) Twenty years ago, oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef at midnight in pristine Alaskan waters, spilling some 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the sea, which spread over 11,00 square miles, in one of the worst environmental disasters.
Eight to 80 times the quantity of oil spilled in the Exxon accident seeps naturally near California and has already made its way into sediments offshore, according to new findings by University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

These natural seeps release some 20 to 25 tonnes of oil daily, “providing an ideal laboratory to investigate the fate of oil in the coastal ocean”, said oceanographer David Valentine of UCSB.

The team’s research documents how the oil is released by the seeps, carried to the surface along a meandering plume, then deposited on the ocean floor in sediments that stretch for miles northwest of Coal Oil Point off California.

The findings also reveal that the oil is so degraded by the time it gets buried in the sea bed that it’s a mere shell of the petroleum that initially bubbles up from the seeps.

“These were spectacular findings,” said Christopher Reddy, a marine chemist at WHOI and, along with Valentine, one of the co-authors of the paper, according to an UCSB release.

Other co-authors include UCSB’s Libe Washburn and Emily Peacock and Robert Nelson, both of WHOI.

These findings are slated for publication Friday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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