Could the Gulf Oil Spill Explode?

The massive loss of life – both human and animal- caused by the BP oil spill could get a whole lot worse. As the oil spill continues to flow unchecked, the risk of another explosion – similar to, but much larger than, the one that killed the original eleven oil workers – increases exponentially. Increases in methane gas could not only lead to an explosion but to a massive tsunami.

Methane gas is typically trapped in small amounts beneath the earth’s surface, but in the case of the Gulf of Mexico, there is lots of methane gas, and methane gas is what caused the original oil well explosion. Further, the crude oil being spilled at the BP oil spill site contains substantially more methane than crude oil at other oil spill locations. Methane can overtake and deplete oxygen, which means the methane gas at the site of the oil spill may be literally suffocating the life and oxygen out of the ocean. This methane has the potential to create “dead zones” in the ocean – areas that wildlife cannot inhabit for many years, and potentially not ever.

BP SignPhoto: flickr

By comparison to the prospect of a giant methane explosion, methane gas killing off wildlife looks relatively tame. Some geologists believe there may be a giant methane source trapped under the ocean floor. This natural gas bubble could be thousands of years old, and essentially may be activated or accessed by the recent oil spill and the effect it has had on the earth beneath its surface.

If there is, in fact, a methane bubble just beneath the surface, and if this bubble is released, then what happens? The methane bubble’s release could create a massive explosion, which would set off a tsunami of truly epic proportions. Even scarier is the fact that this methane explosion could vaporize all the water, oil and other substances at the site of the BP oil leak, leaving a giant cavity in the ocean’s floor. This could lead to more tsunamis and potentially fire or other explosions.

Geologists and other scientists have cautioned that as the spill remains unplugged, the odds of these events occurring increase due to the increasing pressure on the ocean floor and the area just beneath it. While this sounds like something out of science fiction and is, by most accounts, a highly unlikely even, it is still theoretically possible. Especially given the fact that we know little about the ecological systems surrounding the leak and little about the risks workers are being exposed to, it is truly impossible to gauge the long-term impact of the BP oil spill, especially given the current catastrophic scenarios being spun by some scientists.

Sources: 1, 2, 3