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Hypothetical oil spill from a Shell well ‘under the ice’


I read the Huffington Post article about a hypothetical oil spill from a Shell well ‘under the ice’.

I have a couple of facts for you about the oil at Prudhoe Bay the author neglected to look up that make that story implausible. Any well drilled by Shell will have pretty much the same reservoir temperature, and the oil should have similar properties.

At Prudhoe Bay the reservoir temperature is about 225 degrees F, or about 110 degrees C. That is above the boiling point of water. The point here is that oil from any blowout under sea ice will be HOT and will melt through the sea ice to form a large pool of oil. The other point I would like to make is that the ‘pour point’ of Prudhoe Bay oil is around 0 degrees C, that is 32 degrees F. Pour point is the temperature at which the oil solidifies. Prudhoe Bay crude has a gravity somewhere around 21 API, and has about 10% asphaltines. As the name implies, that is the stuff tar and asphalt are made of.

So, any blowout in the Arctic that produced oil of similar properties would likely produce oil that would at first melt through any surface sea ice, form a large pool that would solidify around the margins because of the very cold air temperatures and sub-zero degrees C water temperature. In short, the stuff is going to go very far during the winter.

Cleaning up this stuff would be difficult because the oil is so viscous when it gets cold. Even in the summer oil like this would probably be very viscous, more like thick semi-liquid tar than the light weight crude of the Gulf of Mexico. But it would also probably form a large continuous thick slick that could be contained to a great degree, making cleanup feasible in concept, if not in reality. But then you need the right equipment, and have to have enough of it on hand to actually do a clean-up. That can’t be done today.

Just a few facts for your readers.

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