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Natural Oil In Baikal

The possibility that natural oil could get into Lake Baikal caused the transfer of the projected “Eastern Siberia – the Pacific Ocean” oil-pipe line father away from the of the UNESCO world heritage object.

Fortunately, environment protectors have managed to achieve the transfer. However, Baikal has turned out to cope already with its own oil blowouts – there are oil seepages in the self zone of the lake.

The lake’s unique ecosystems successfully cope with them. However, no oil seepages should occur in the lake on top of that! The issue was investigated by the researchers of the Institute of Limnology, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences (Irkutsk) jointly with the Moscow Institute of Oceanology and the Irkutsk Institute of Geochemistry.

On the coast of Middle and Southern Baikal, natural oil outcrops in the coastal steeps in the form of bitumen or it comes to the water surface from the bottom of the lake in the form of floating spherules, which make spots of up to a meter and a half in diameter. It was in 2003 that attention was for the first time drawn to oil traces in Baikal, when a dark spot on the ice was noticed from the satellite. Later, the researchers discovered an underwater 500-meter-high fuel spray, consisting of gas, oil and bottom water.

The Baikal oil analysis has proved that it was generated in the sediments, as it is usually the case with fresh deep water bodies during the Oligocene - early Miocene. According to the most probable hypothesis, this oil originated from organic matter buried in the water body.

The researchers took samples of sedimentary rock in the form of cores nearby the oil fuel spray and at different distances from the spray to investigate oil and gas content in the samples. The oil and gas mixture comes into water in the form of gas bubbles covered by the oil film. The gas consists of methane (99%) and its homologues: butane, propane, pentane, hexane and others.

Apparently, oil penetrates the Baikal water via tectonic discharges. However, regardless of constant formation of new oil spots on the water surface, the area covered by them – about one square kilometer - does not increase. This testifies that oil gets quickly transformed in the lake. Mainly, thanks to microbiological community, where oil-oxidizing bacteria prevail. So, for the time being, the Baikal ecosystem efficiently copes with the natural carbohydrates contamination.

Nevertheless, the researchers emphasize that natural oil relief into the lake is incommensurable in scale to disastrous man-caused oil blowouts. This cannot serve as justification for petroleum production or oil transportation close to the lake.

Nadezda Markina | alfa
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