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2017-10-29. How a 672,000-Gallon Oil Spill Was Nearly Invisible.

posted Nov 2, 2017, 4:09 PM by Alan Gould
By Christina Caron, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Use chapter 3 and Ecosystem Change chapter 1 or 7. Excerpt: Mention oil spills, and images of birds coated in black slime and a shiny slick on the ocean’s surface come to mind. But not all oil spills are the same. About 672,000 gallons of oil spilled when a pipeline fractured about a mile below the ocean’s surface this month in the Gulf of Mexico southeast of Venice, La., .... Hardly any of it was visible. ...16,000 barrels is “a pretty substantial leak,” said Edward B. Overton, an emeritus professor of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University who is studying the environmental effects of Deepwater Horizon. “But it was not enough on the surface to warrant a cleanup response.” In this case, the oil degraded quickly, in part because of environmental forces. ...most of the oil droplets that escaped from the pipe...were so small that they were measured in microns... Those minuscule droplets were ingested by oil-degrading bacteria that live in the Gulf of Mexico, Dr. Overton said. ...Every year, natural oil seepage — unrelated to the oil and gas industry — releases an estimated 20 million to 50 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico, he said, from hundreds, possibly thousands of different spots on the ocean floor. “The families of bacteria that can degrade oil already exist in the Gulf,” he said. “So when they see more oil, what happens is those bacteria degrade that oil and start reproducing.” The bacteria eat the hydrocarbons in the oil and turn it into carbon dioxide or more bacteria, and those bacteria become a food source for other organisms. An oil spill essentially serves as food for the bacteria, but there are times, like during Deepwater Horizon, when the bacteria are overwhelmed by the volume and cannot work fast enough to break it down.... https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/29/science/gulf-oil-spill-louisiana.html