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Petroleum Derived Hydrocarbons in Gulf of Mexico Waters
C. B. Koons (1), P. H. Monaghan (2)
Petroleum type hydrocarbons occur in waters of the Gulf of Mexico as particulate material floating on the surface of the water (tar balls) or as dissolved components in the water column. Gas chromatographic, mass spectrometric, and carbon isotopic analytical methods have been used to characterize the hydrocarbons in tar balls collected from western Gulf beaches and from Gulf waters. The dissolved hydrocarbon contents of Gulf waters were examined. These included waters taken in the open Gulf, along tanker routes, or near producing platforms.
Fingerprint analyses show that a significant portion of the tar balls collected from Texas beaches are probably derived from natural seepages. The water in the northern Gulf of Mexico probably contains less than 0.007 parts per million of dissolved hydrocarbons based on the data examined here. At least three-quarters of this are the heavy hydrocarbons with more than 10 carbon atoms. Hydrocarbon content is significantly less in samples taken below the surface than in surface waters.
There are no significant differences in hydrocarbon content between waters taken in the open Gulf, along tanker routes, or near producing platforms. Neither petroleum production operations nor petroleum transport are measurably changing the hydrocarbon content of the nearby water.
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