American Chemical Society
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Recurrent Oil Sheens at the Deepwater Horizon Disaster Site Fingerprinted with Synthetic Hydrocarbon Drilling Fluids

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journal contribution
posted on 2013-08-06, 00:00 authored by Christoph Aeppli, Christopher M. Reddy, Robert K. Nelson, Matthias Y. Kellermann, David L. Valentine
We used alkenes commonly found in synthetic drilling-fluids to identify sources of oil sheens that were first observed in September 2012 close to the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) disaster site, more than two years after the Macondo well (MW) was sealed. While explorations of the sea floor by BP confirmed that the well was sound, they identified the likely source as leakage from an 80-ton cofferdam, abandoned during the operation to control the MW in May 2010. We acquired sheen samples and cofferdam oil and analyzed them using comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography. This allowed for the identification of drilling-fluid C16- to C18-alkenes in sheen samples that were absent in cofferdam oil. Furthermore, the spatial pattern of evaporative losses of sheen oil alkanes indicated that oil surfaced closer to the DWH wreckage than the cofferdam site. Last, ratios of alkenes and oil hydrocarbons pointed to a common source of oil found in sheen samples and recovered from oil-covered DWH debris collected shortly after the explosion. These lines of evidence suggest that the observed sheens do not originate from the MW, cofferdam, or from natural seeps. Rather, the likely source is oil in tanks and pits on the DWH wreckage, representing a finite oil volume for leakage.