Abstract

Prolific natural hydrocarbon seepage occurs offshore of Coal Oil Point in the Santa Barbara Channel, California. Within the water column above submarine vents, plumes of hydrocarbon gas bubbles act as acoustic scattering targets. Using 3.5 kHz sonar data, seep distribution offshore of Coal Oil Point was mapped for August 1996, July 1995, and July 1973. Comparison of the seep distributions over time reveals more than 50% decrease in the areal extent of seepage, accompanied by declines in seep emission volume, in a 13 km2 area above a producing oil reservoir. Declines in reservoir pressure and depletion of seep hydrocarbon sources associated with oil production are the mechanisms inferred to explain the declines in seep area and emission volume.

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