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  • glenster

    NEW ORLEANS — It is an overlooked danger in oil spill
    crisis: The crude gushing from the well contains vast
    amounts of natural gas that could pose a serious threat
    to the Gulf of Mexico's fragile ecosystem.

    The oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40
    percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in
    typical oil deposits, said John Kessler, a Texas A&M
    University oceanographer who is studying the impact of
    methane from the spill.

    That means huge quantities of methane have entered the
    Gulf, scientists say, potentially suffocating marine life
    and creating "dead zones" where oxygen is so depleted that
    nothing lives.

    "This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern
    human history," Kessler said.

    Methane is a colorless, odorless and flammable substance
    that is a major component in the natural gas used to heat
    people's homes. Petroleum engineers typically burn off
    excess gas attached to crude before the oil is shipped off
    to the refinery. That's exactly what BP has done as it has
    captured more than 7.5 million gallons of crude from the
    breached well.

    A BP spokesman said the company was burning about 30
    million cubic feet of natural gas daily from the source
    of the leak, adding up to about 450 million cubic feet
    since the containment effort started 15 days ago. That's
    enough gas to heat about 450,000 homes for four days.

    But that figure does not account for gas that eluded
    containment efforts and wound up in the water, leaving
    behind huge amounts of methane.

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