Do Oil Spills Really Clean Up Naturally?

[ I tried posting this over in “Comments on Cecil’s Columns” but the thread was more about bashing Rush Limbaugh. Perhaps I can get an answer here. ]

When oil ‘breaks down’ or otherwise appears to go away by any of the means described in the column…exactly what does it turn into? Is it something truly benign or does it just add more to the carbon footprint, greenhouse gases, or something like that?

So, does the harm truly go away or just manifest itself in another (bad) form???

Your hunch is correct – any oil consumed by bacteria is eventually released as carbon dioxide*.

But that amount of carbon dioxide is a relative drop in the bucket. The current Gulf oil spill has released something on the order of 6 million barrels of oil. For comparison, the US burns around 20 million barrels of oil every day. Total world consumption is around 80 million barrels per day. That’s not counting other fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. Next to that, 6 million barrels worth of carbon dioxide is negligible. Of course, the same can be said of driving your car to work, but it all adds up to a rather significant problem…

*some small fraction of that carbon will be sequestered in marine sediments, but the vast majority will end up as CO2 in the atmosphere.

It will behave exactly as all other oil behaves. It will therefore add no more CO2 to the atmosphere than it would if it were properly pumped, collected, and then burned as fuel. Or if it washed up on beaches. Oil is oil and the end result is the end result. The only difference is the speed with which it reaches that end.

I’m being absolutist, I know. Sue me. :stuck_out_tongue: