Home / Lifestyle / 672,000-gallon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was nearly unseen

672,000-gallon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was nearly unseen

When about 672,000 gallons of oil poured out of a broken pipeline a mile below the ocean’s surface, there was no telltale black slime blossoming across the water’s surface and no birds were covered in thick black gunk because hardly any of the spilled oil was visible.

A pipeline operated by LLOG Exploration fractured on Oct. 11, and 16,000 barrels of oil were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico about 65 miles off the coast of New Orleans.

It was “a pretty substantial leak,” as Louisiana State University professor of environmental sciences, Edward Overton, told the New York Times. “But it was not enough on the surface to warrant a cleanup response.”

The oil was able to degrade quickly because of environmental influences like sunlight, wind and ocean waves that helped to break it down. Each droplet that was able to escape from the broken pipe was extremely small, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Steven Youde told the Times.

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“The thing that sort of confused people about this one is that we weren’t seeing any oil,” he said. “Think of a soda can or a beer can. If you shake it up and poke a tiny hole in it, it comes out in tiny, tiny droplets.”

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A pipeline operated by LLOG Exploration fractured on Oct. 11, and 16,000 barrels of oil were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico about 65 miles off the coast of New Orleans.

(Richard McManus/Getty Images)

The oil was searched for underwater for several days before the Coast Guard determined that it was unlikely to be seen again, Youde said.

The spilled oil is not likely to have a major environmental impact, Overton said. The ocean’s degrading bacteria will be able to ingest what remains of the spill.

“The families of bacteria that can degrade oil already exist in the Gulf,” he said. “So when they see more oil, what happens is those bacteria degrade that oil and start reproducing.”

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