April 20th marked the one year anniversary of the largest accidental oil spill into an ocean that released 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Not long after the accident, I wrote a post on this website about the geopolitics of oil supply referencing Michael Bradshaw’s article on the Geopolitics of Global Energy Security. The stats Bradshaw provides on both the major suppliers of oil, and the countries with the largest reserves, still intrigues me.
The Society of Biology, on the one year anniversary, released a briefing on the spill which provided numerous links to news articles and official sites. The environmental impacts remain uncertain, with some people saying that the impact is less than anticipated, while others say that the full impacts will only be felt in the long-term.
The answer to my question of last year– will this disaster lead to a push for renewable energies, or lead to the exploration and exploitation of oil in more remote areas of the globe- remains largely unanswered.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Human activities, e.g. farming, have resulted in the release of large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. However, in locations across the world, large amounts of methane and carbon are stored in soil or the sea bed. These are released gradually as a natural process.
In a Geography Compass paper, William Bowden raises concerns over this process as Arctic ice and permafrost (frozen ground) begin to thaw in response to climate change. Bowden suggests that stored methane and carbon may be released into the atmosphere, further contributing to the volume of greenhouse gases.
Switching our attention to the Gulf of Mexico, last April’s Deepwater Horizon oil leak also caused the release of a large quantity of methane. Research discovered that methane-absorbing bacteria multiplied rapidly in response. As a result, much of the additional methane was not released into the atmosphere.
The Arctic and Gulf of Mexico may behave very differently from each other. However, research into the Deepwater Horizon oil leak offers an insight into the potential consequences of much greater environmental change.