I’m sure you’ve seen the picture of tarballs on the beach splashed all over the MSM after hurricane Isaac came ashore in Louisiana. The left leaning website Think Progress (parent of Joe Romm’s Climate Progress) framed it this way:
A Greenpeace research team took samples from beaches along the Alabama coast on September 2, including from an area with hundreds of tar balls in the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.
Tests run by Louisiana State University for state wildlife officials confirmed that oil found on Elmer’s Island and Grand Isle matched the biological fingerprint of the hundreds of millions of gallons of oil that spewed from BP’s Macondo well.
On Wednesday, BP PLC said oil from its spill had been exposed by Isaac’s waves and that the company would work to clean it up.
What’s interesting is that this isn’t anything new. Tarballs wash up on the Gulf beaches with regularity.
You can learn a lot searching though old articles, for example this one from NASA Earth Observatory
Twice an Exxon Valdez spill worth of oil seeps into the Gulf of Mexico every year, according to a new study that will be presented January 27 at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Antonio, Texas.
But the oil isn’t destroying habitats or wiping out ocean life. The ooze is a natural phenomena that’s been going on for many thousands of years, according to Roger Mitchell, Vice President of Program Development at the Earth Satellite Corporation (EarthSat) in Rockville Md. “The wildlife have adapted and evolved and have no problem dealing with the oil,” he said.
Science Daily also covered it: Scientists Find That Tons Of Oil Seep Into The Gulf Of Mexico Each Year
Transfer of hydrocarbons from natural seeps to the water
column and atmosphere
I. R. MACDONALD1, I. LEIFER2, R. SASSEN1, P. STINE1, R. MITCHELL3 AND N. GUINASSO JR1 1Texas A&M University—GERG, College Station, TX, USA; 2University of California, Chemistry Department, Santa Barbara, CA, USA; 3Earth Satellite Corp., Rockville, MD, USA
From the abstract:
The northern Gulf of Mexico contains hundreds of active seeps that can be studied experimentally with the use of submarines and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV).Hydrocarbon flux through surface sediments profoundly alters benthic ecology and seafloor geology at seeps. In water depths of 500–2000 m, rapid gas flux results in shallow, metastable deposits of gas hydrate, which reduce sediment porosity and affect seepage rates. This paper details the processes that occur during the final, brief transition — as oil and gas escape from the seafloor, rise through the water and dissolve, are consumed by microbial processes, or disperse into the atmosphere.
Here’s another back to 1988:
Leakage of deep, reservoired petroleum to the near surface on the gulf of Mexico Continental slope
Marine Chemistry, Volume 24, issue 1 (May, 1988), p. 39-59.
ISSN: 0304-4203 DOI: 10.1016/0304-4203(88)90005-9
Where they say in the abstract:
Reservoired oils, shallow sediment cores (2m), sea slicks and tar balls were collected in the Green Canyon Lease area of the northern Gulf of Mexico continental slope. The gaseous and liquid hydrocarbons associated with near surface sediments and water have migrated from deep (2000-3000 m) subsurface reservoirs and/or source rocks. This conclusion is based on molecular (GC/FID, GC/FPD, GC/MS) and carbon isotopic evidence. Visual observations at two locations on the continental slope confirm the presence of massive amounts of active liquid as well as gas seepage. Hydrate gas recovered in sediment cores originates from deep, oil-associated gas. This gas has migrated to shallow sediments with little or no isotopic fractionation. In contrast, near surface hydrocarbon liquids (shallow bitumens and sea slicks) are depleted in aliphatics, 4-ring or larger aromatics, naphthalene, C1-naphthalenes and C2-naphthalenes as compared to the reservoired fluids. These near-surface fluids are extensively altered by the concurrent processes of migration, dissolution and microbial degradation. However, the distributions of highly alkylated (> C2) naphthalenes, phenanthrenes and dibenzothiophenes, triterpanes, steranes and triaromatized steranes are similar to the precursor reservoired oil. This study documents, for the first time, a direct link between natural seepage in a deep water marine setting and sea slick and tar ball formation. This and other studies suggest that the natural seepage of oil and gas can be a significant process in the deep ocean.
Combine that with this story yesterday:
At least 200,000 tons of oil and gas from Deepwater Horizon spill consumed by gulf bacteria
Researchers from the University of Rochester and Texas A&M University have found that, over a period of five months following the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, naturally-occurring bacteria that exist in the Gulf of Mexico consumed and within five months removed at least 200,000 tons of oil and natural gas that spewed into the deep Gulf from the ruptured well head.
And I just can’t get too worried about things like this. Nature seems to deal with it effectively.
California has the same natural tarball feature: California oil seeps
As pointed out by the National Research Council (NRC) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, “natural oil seeps contribute the highest amount of oil to the marine environment, accounting for 46 per cent of the annual load to the world’s oceans.
But that sort of factual reporting doesn’t sit well with the current alarmism, so you won’t find it in the recent barrage of news articles.
h/t to reader Jimbo