Put simply, oil seeps are naturally occurring oil and natural gas “springs” which rise from oil reservoirs within the earth and emerge at the surface. Seeps usually contain some mixture of natural gas, crude oil, water and asphaltum, which is a thick substance commonly known as tar. Similar to the manner in which freshwater springs on the earth’s surface originate from collected water underground, oil seeps originate from underground collections of oil that have accumulated within porous rock and have been contained by impermeable rock.
Oil seeps occur both on shore and under water, and provide valuable insight about the location of oil reservoirs deep within the earth. Since we have yet to develop a one hundred percent accurate way of determining the location of underground oil reservoirs, the presence of oil seeps provides valuable clues that can reduce the risk of wasted capital for oil drilling endeavors by companies such as Western Pipeline Corp. The first project believed to have been dedicated to drilling for oil, led by Edwin Drake, took place in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in an area that was chosen in part because of the known oil seeps.
Oil seeps provide a natural resource which has been used by humans for various purposes throughout history, long before the advent of commercial drilling as we know it today. Native Americans are believed to have used resources collected from oil seeps for such purposes as lantern fuel, lubricant for wagon wheels and adhesive for weapons and canoes centuries ago. Asphaltum from seeps is also believed to have been used by such civilizations as face paint and for decorative additions to bowls and jewelry.
Oil seeps on land, though they may only release small amounts of oil and be difficult to see, provide scientists with important clues about the underground environment and the potential of an oil reservoir being located beneath. Likewise, oil seeps in the ocean are evidence of possible oil reservoirs below the sea floor, which modern oil drilling technology is now capable of extracting. Oil and natural gas released through vents in the ocean floor float and collect on the surface of the water, often forming oil covered natural gas bubbles and eventually a film of oil on the surface, making them easy to locate. Over time, large amounts of oil collect on the surface that eventually become visible from satellite images. Combined with information from other technologies, satellite analysis of oil seeps can provide scientists important data about the type of oil that is present as well as the potential for successful excavation.
The presence of oil seeps leading to further exploration has resulted in the discoveries of numerous productive oil reservoirs in the past. Without the natural clues about subsurface activity provided by oil seeps, we may have never discovered oil and its many commercial uses that are so common today.
About the Author: Bob Jent is the CEO of Western Pipeline Corporation. Western Pipeline Corp specializes in identifying, acquiring and developing existing, producing reserves on behalf of its individual clients.