Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Petroleum Inputs to the Sea: Natural Seeps is #1

 
There is an estimated 256,000 tons of petroleum entering North American waters every year, and 1,268,000 tons entering the marine environment worldwide.  Here are the sources of the "Petroleum Inputs to the Sea," according to "Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects":

1. Natural Seeps.  Natural seepage of crude oil from geologic formations below the seafloor to the marine environment off North America is estimated to exceed 160,000 tons (47,000,000 gallons), and 600,000 tons (180,000,000 gallons) globally, each year. Natural processes are therefore, responsible for 62.5 percent of the petroleum entering North American waters (see chart above), and over 45 percent of the petroleum entering the marine environment worldwide.

2. Petroleum Extraction. Activities associated with oil and gas exploration or production introduce, on average, an estimated 3,000 tons (880,000 gallons) of petroleum to North American waters, and 38,000 tons (11,000,000 gallons) worldwide, each year. Releases due to these activities, therefore, make up roughly 1.2 percent of the total petroleum input to North American waters (see chart) and 3 percent of the total worldwide.

3. Petroleum Transportation. The transportation (including refining and distribution activities) of crude oil or refined products results in the release, on average, of an estimated 9,100 tons (2,700,000 gallons) of petroleum to North American waters, and 150,000 tons (44,000,000 gallons) worldwide, each year. Releases due to the transportation of petroleum, therefore, make up roughly 3.5 percent of the total petroleum input to North American waters (see chart) and about 12 percent worldwide.

4. Petroleum Consumption.  Releases that occur during the consumption of petroleum, whether by individual car and boat owners, non-tank vessels, or runoff from increasingly paved urban areas, contribute the vast majority of petroleum introduced to the environment through human activity. On average, an estimated 84,000 tons (25,000,000 gallons) of petroleum are input to North American waters, and 480,000 tons (140,000,000 gallons) are input worldwide, each year from these diffuse sources.  Releases from petroleum consumption make up roughly 33% of the total petroleum entering North American waters (see chart) and 38% of the petroleum entering the marine environment worldwide. 

MP: By far, the largest source of petroleum in the world's oceans is natural seepage (62.5% for North America), and the smallest source is from "petroleum extraction" (1.2% for North America).  Although the percentage for "petroleum extraction" will be much higher this year due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it's probably good to put this all in perspective, and consider that the transportation and consumption of petroleum contribute much higher amounts of environmental damage in a typical year than oil drilling, by factors of three times greater for oil transportation and 27 times greater for oil consumption.   

10 Comments:

At 6/01/2010 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, but like CO2, they'll come down hard on companies who have money. Those natural sources of oil seepage and CO2 can't be extorted.

There will be a small industry determining the provenance of any oil or oil products that wash ashore or impact fisheries. Lawyers will be deflated when they oil can't be tied to the spill, and elated when it can.

 
At 6/01/2010 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Russians have used this technique 5 times. Maybe it's time we considered it.

 
At 6/01/2010 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, but that seepage comes out slowly, spread all over the world, and at a rate the oceanic environments can take. Do natural rifts belch giant plumes of oil that are miles wide and deep, killing off entire eco systems? Vitamin A is good for a person's body too, but excess amounts are toxic.

 
At 6/01/2010 3:29 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Good commentary from fund manager John P. Hussman, about probabilities.

Based on limited data, we might expect a 35% chance of a deepwater oil spill over the next 10 years.

Like the data in MP's post, this information is useful in making future decisions.

Source: http://www.hussmanfunds.com/wmc/wmc100601.htm

Hussman: "While there are about 3800 oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, only about 130 deep water projects have been completed, compared with just 17 a decade ago. So in 10 years, applying a new technology, we've had one major oil spill thus far. Unless there is some a priori reason to assume that the technology is pristine, despite the fact that it has failed spectacularly, the first back-of-the-envelope estimate a statistician would make would be to model deep water oil spills as a "Poisson process." Poisson processes are often used to model things that arrive randomly, like customers in a checkout line, or insurance claims across unrelated policy holders. Given one major oil spill in 10 years, you probably wouldn't be way off the mark using an average "arrival frequency" of 0.10 annually."

"From that perspective, a simple Poisson estimate would suggest a 90.5% probability that we will see no additional major oil spills from deep water rigs over the coming year, dropping to a 36.8% chance that we'll see no additional major oil spills from deep water rigs over the coming decade. Moreover, you'd put a 36.8% chance on having exactly one more major spill in the coming decade, an 18.4% chance on having two major spills, a 6.1% chance of having three major spills, and a 1.9% chance of having four or more major spills in the coming decade. This is quite a bit of inference from a small amount of data, but catastrophes contain a great deal of information when the "prior" is that catastrophes are simply not possible."

"Given that the worst offshore oil spill in Australia's history happened only in November 2009 (which took months to shut down), this sort of estimate does not seem unreasonable. In any event, disasters contain information. It's no longer reasonable to apply previous risk estimates even after we've observed a major spill."

 
At 6/01/2010 5:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does this mean we should drill as much as possible to get all of the oil out of the ground as quickly as possible to prevent natural seepage?

 
At 6/01/2010 5:17 PM, Blogger grant said...

I think you will find that on BP's well in the gulf of mexico the blow out preventer failed.
It seems that the well only had one blow out preventer fitted but on most wells there seems to be two fitted and it could be that the contractor or BP tried to shortcut and it has backfired on them.
Wikipedia: blow out preventer then scroll down to Deepwater Horizon Well.

 
At 6/01/2010 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"By far, the largest source of petroleum in the world's oceans is natural seepage (62.5% for North America), and the smallest source is from "petroleum extraction" (1.2% for North America)."

What is the economic and environmental impact of natural seepage? I haven't heard of fisheries closing or wildlife and habitat being destroyed by natural seepage.

 
At 6/01/2010 8:03 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

The only thing that I think is relevant is what is the damage/cost, convered into a dollar figure, of this oil spill? Costs include things such as lost tourism, danage to the seafood industry, existence value (if any species go extinct), etc.

 
At 6/01/2010 10:16 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"The only thing that I think is relevant is what is the damage/cost, convered into a dollar figure, of this oil spill? Costs include things such as lost tourism, danage to the seafood industry, existence value (if any species go extinct), etc."

Ah, those pesky externalities. People in the tourism business and people in the fishing industry could try to determine their losses & sue for damages, but how do you assign a dollar value to that last one? A species might have a different value to different people. Who has suffered a loss quantifiable in dollars?

 
At 6/02/2010 10:50 AM, Blogger juandos said...

Hmmm, Houston, we have a problem!

Could that problem be, 'Not Invented Here' syndrome?

From Esquire magazine: The Secret, 700-Million-Gallon Oil Fix That Worked — and Might Save the Gulf

Now I find out that people at Case Western Reserve have come up with a oleophilic aerogel...

"Oil spill experts on both coasts say that the ability to squeeze out and conserve the oil is an advantage over other products currently available"...

 

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