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Doomsday Threat?
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Is BP Testing Ryskin Methane Gas Blast Theory?

By James Donahue

The secrecy surrounding the operations by British Petroleum at and around its Deepwater Horizon disaster site has led to speculation that all is not well, in spite of reports to the contrary. Reporters are being kept at bay, as are most other technical people who might give the world some insight as to what is going on.

Local workers hired by BP to help in clean-up operations have been sworn to secrecy. Even the Coast Guard had a temporary restriction on allowing the media close to the disaster site where BP workers are attempting to permanently cap the well. Nobody is talking. Why?

There has been concern that the explosion that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig may also have damaged the well casing below the bottom of the sea. This is why extensive testing has been going on since the company successfully installed a cap that appears to be capable of totally shutting off the flow of oil and gas at the broken well heat. Great concern has been expressed about “seepage” of oil and gas from somewhere nearby, but no details have been given.

There also has been a story making the rounds on Internet blogs that the NOAA research ship Thomas Jefferson, during a recent examination of the floor of the Gulf, discovered a 100-foot-long fracture that is leaking methane and crude oil. A search of NOAA and other government sites failed to confirm the story, however.

All of this has drawn attention to Dr. Gregory Ryskin, a bio-chemical engineer at Northwestern University, who in 2007 appeared on the Discovery Channel to offer a theory that large pockets of methane gas, trapped deep under the oceans of the world, occasionally break free, rise to the surface and explode. He suggested that this might have been one of the causes of past life extinctions on the planet.

Terrence Aym, in an article published on the Helium web blog, proposed a doomsday scenario unfolding in the Gulf based upon Dr. Ryskin’s theories. He suggested that the amount of methane gas escaping from the damaged well head and ruptures in the sea bed may be setting the stage for just such an explosion.

Aym painted a picture of a disaster beginning with the explosion of a bubble of methane as large as 20 miles wide, which destroys all of the drilling rigs and ships and instantly kills everybody working on them.

“Next, the ocean bottom will collapse, instantaneously displacing up to a trillion cubic feet of water or more and creating a towering supersonic tsunami annihilating everything along the coast and well inland. Like a thermonuclear blast, a high pressure atmospheric wave could precede the tidal wave flattening everything in its path before the water arrives.”

The Business Insider has since published comments by Dr. Ryskin that dispute any suggestion that the Deepwater Horizon disaster may cause such an explosive event.

In an article published in Geology magazine in 2003, Ryskin proposed that huge combustible clouds produced by methane gas trapped in stagnant bodies of water and suddenly released could have killed off the majority of marine life and land animals and plants at the end of the Permian era, at a time before the dinosaurs existed on Earth.

He wrote: “I explore the possibility that mass extinction can be caused by an extremely fast, explosive release of dissolved methane (and other dissolved gases such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide) that accumulated in the oceanic water masses prior to stagnation and anoxia.”

Ryskin’s theory is based on the accumulation of large quantities of these gases in stagnate or still waters that suddenly rise to the surface in a giant bubble, and an explosion is triggered by a natural event such as lightning.

The Gulf waters, which are subject to constant storms and now threatened by hurricanes, are not stagnate. But they are leaking a lot of explosive gasses as the constant burn-off at the recovery vessels proves.

But the Aym story quotes Matt Simmons, an oil industry expert, as saying the methane under the Gulf is pressurized at 100,000 pounds per square inch, and that the pressure at the wellhead has been measured at 40,000 pounds per square inch. This pressure is the reason capping that runaway well and getting it under control has been such a problem for BP.

Aym also quotes Dr. John Kessler, of Texas A&M University, as having calculated that the well is spewing 60 percent oil and 40 percent methane. This marks this as a very high pressure well. It is the stored gas mixed with the crude that forces the oil up the well casing when a well “comes in,” as depicted in Hollywood films of oil shooting wildly into the air once the drilling rig strikes a pocket of oil.

In the year this writer worked on an oil well servicing outfit, we learned that the pressure at each well varies. Some are full of gas and classified as high pressured wells. And they were dangerous to work around. Others with less gas, flowed more slowly. Once the gas has escaped, oil companies install pumps that suck the crude up to the surface.

So is there a real danger of another gas explosion among the drilling rigs and recovery operations in the Gulf? Of course there is. It not only can happen but the chances are high that it will happen if PB continues trying to salvage this particular high pressure well. And if the casing has cracked below the crust of the earth, attempts at capping it permanently may end in yet another explosive disaster similar to what occurred on the Deepwater Horizon.

We don’t believe, however, that it will blow up the entire Gulf of Mexico.