Natural gas from Gulf well could create oxygen-poor ‘dead zone’

By Fort Worth Star Telegram
Posted Friday, Jun. 18, 2010

NEW ORLEANS — Vast amounts of natural gas in crude oil escaping from the blown Gulf of Mexico well could seriously threaten marine life by creating "dead zones" where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.

The danger has been largely overlooked, with early efforts to monitor the spill focusing on the more toxic components of oil. But scientists increasingly worry about the gas, which in high concentrations can suffocate sea creatures.

At least 4.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas — and possibly almost twice that — have leaked since April 20.

"This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history," said John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer.

Steven DiMarco, an oceanographer at Texas A&M University who has studied a long-known dead zone in the Gulf, said one example of marine life that could be affected by low oxygen levels in deeper waters is giant squid, the food of choice for endangered sperm whales.

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