New concerns arise over ruptured well

August 6, 2010 4:27:04 PM PDT
It will be at least a day before crews in the Gulf can continue with plans to seal that busted oil well for good. Right now, they are waiting for the cement that was pumped into the well to harden. It's still holding.

Oil wasn't the only thing gushing out of the busted well. There was also a lot of gas released, and that's leading to a new problem. It's natural gas, and as it degrades in the deep Gulf of Mexico, it's creating an invisible problem.

Scientists can't see it in their samples, but it's there, and it's eating away at things the Gulf needs to be healthy.

On Wednesday, as the White House was announcing updates on the spill, Texas A&M Professor John Kessler was in his College Station lab analyzing water samples taken when the busted well was at its worst.

"At least 50 percent of the oil that was released is now completely gone from the system," said Dr. Jane Lunchenco with NOAA said in a press conference.

But he's not exactly ready to celebrate.

"Just because it's off the surface, doesn't mean that it's completely out of the ocean," Kessler said.

More than anything else, Kessler's work, which was one of the first scientific expeditions to the well site, was focused on all that natural gas coming out of the well.

Remember those bubbly pictures from a few months ago? All those bubbles are natural gas, mostly methane, escaping from the well alongside the oil.

Half of the leak was gas. It doesn't coat birds or beaches or even create sheen on the surface. But it's creating huge clouds deep in the Gulf where there's less oxygen in the water.

"And that's harmful for any marine life that might need that to breathe," Kessler said.

They aren't the same as the dead zones you may've heard of. Those are closer to shore and in shallower water.

The dead zone he's talking about is close to the well and thousands of feet down. But he's worried the two would meet.

"That's exactly what we're trying to looking at," Kessler said.

And if that happens, it could cause huge problems for shrimpers and fisherman along the Gulf coast, especially when you consider there's no fix.

"I know of no way that's man-made that can fix that process," Kessler said.

The only way is to wait and watch and study and hope that nature can take care of the invisible mess man's created.

"What scares me more on a societal basis is if these go completely ignored," Kessler said.

Dr. Kessler hopes to return to the Gulf. He is optimistic that the oxygen depleted zones may not grow, but says it is one of the things that most urgently needs to be studied.


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