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Natural Offshore Oil Seepage and Related Tarball Accumulation on the California Coastline - Santa Barbara Channel and the Southern Santa Maria Basin: Source Identification and Inventory

Open-File Report 2009-1225

A study in cooperation with the Minerals Management Service and the Energy Division, County of Santa Barbara, California; Also released as MMS report 2009-030; This study was funded in part by the U. S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS), through an Interagency Agreement No. 18985 with the U.S. Geological Survey, Western Coastal and Marine Geology Team, as part of the MMS Environmental Studies Program.
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Abstract

Oil spillage from natural sources is very common in the waters of southern California. Active oil extraction and shipping is occurring concurrently within the region and it is of great interest to resource managers to be able to distinguish between natural seepage and anthropogenic oil spillage. The major goal of this study was to establish the geologic setting, sources, and ultimate dispersal of natural oil seeps in the offshore southern Santa Maria Basin and Santa Barbara Basins. Our surveys focused on likely areas of hydrocarbon seepage that are known to occur between Point Arguello and Ventura, California. Our approach was to 1) document the locations and geochemically fingerprint natural seep oils or tar; 2) geochemically fingerprint coastal tar residues and potential tar sources in this region, both onshore and offshore; 3) establish chemical correlations between offshore active seeps and coastal residues thus linking seep sources to oil residues; 4) measure the rate of natural seepage of individual seeps and attempt to assess regional natural oil and gas seepage rates; and 5) interpret the petroleum system history for the natural seeps. To document the location of sub-sea oil seeps, we first looked into previous studies within and near our survey area. We measured the concentration of methane gas in the water column in areas of reported seepage and found numerous gas plumes and measured high concentrations of methane in the water column. The result of this work showed that the seeps were widely distributed between Point Conception east to the vicinity of Coal Oil Point, and that they by in large occur within the 3-mile limit of California State waters. Subsequent cruises used sidescan and high resolution seismic to map the seafloor, from just south of Point Arguello, east to near Gaviota, California. The results of the methane survey guided the exploration of the area west of Point Conception east to Gaviota using a combination of seismic instruments. The seafloor was mapped by sidescan sonar, and numerous lines of high -resolution seismic surveys were conducted over areas of interest. Biomarker and stable carbon isotope ratios were used to infer the age, lithology, organic matter input, and depositional environment of the source rocks for 388 samples of produced crude oil, seep oil, and tarballs mainly from coastal California. These samples were used to construct a chemometric fingerprint (multivariate statistics) decision tree to classify 288 additional samples, including tarballs of unknown origin collected from Monterey and San Mateo County beaches after a storm in early 2007. A subset of 9 of 23 active offshore platform oils and one inactive platform oil representing a few oil reservoirs from the western Santa Barbara Channel were used in this analysis, and thus this model is not comprehensive and the findings are not conclusive. The platform oils included in this study are from west to east: Irene, Hildago, Harvest, Hermosa, Heritage, Harmony, Hondo, Holly, Platform A, and Hilda (now removed). The results identify three 'tribes' of 13C-rich oil samples inferred to originate from thermally mature equivalents of the clayey-siliceous, carbonaceous marl, and lower calcareous-siliceous members of the Monterey Formation. Tribe 1 contains four oil families having geochemical traits of clay-rich marine shale source rock deposited under suboxic conditions with substantial higher-plant input. Tribe 2 contains four oil families with intermediate traits, except for abundant 28,30-bisnorhopane, indicating suboxic to anoxic marine marl source rock with hemipelagic input. Tribe 3 contains five oil families with traits of distal marine carbonate source rock deposited under anoxic conditions with pelagic but little or no higher-plant input. Tribes 1 and 2 occur mainly south of Point Conception in paleogeographic settings where deep burial of the Monterey Formation source rock favored generation from all thre

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Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Natural Offshore Oil Seepage and Related Tarball Accumulation on the California Coastline - Santa Barbara Channel and the Southern Santa Maria Basin: Source Identification and Inventory
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
2009-1225
Edition:
-
Year Published:
2009
Language:
ENGLISH
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Western Coastal and Marine Geology
Description:
Report: iii, 116 p.; Appendixes (csv, txt, xls)
Online Only (Y/N):
N
Additional Online Files(Y/N):
Y