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Maritime Museum Talk by UCSB’s James Boles to Discuss Methane Seepage in Santa Barbara Channel

Santa Barbara Maritime Museum will continue its lecture series with a presentation titled “Methane Seepage Along Faults In The Santa Barbara Coastal Area” by UC Santa Barbara Earth Sciences Professor James Boles, Ph.D. The lecture will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 14, 2016, following a members-only reception from 6:15-6:45 p.m.


Boles will discuss methane gas seeps, a naturally occurring environmental disaster, in the Santa Barbara Channel, home to the second largest natural oil and gas seeps in the world.

Hydrocarbon seepage has occurred in the Santa Barbara Channel and coastal areas for at least a few hundred thousand years. The Monterey Formation is the source of these hydrocarbons.

Geologic evidence in the coastal foothills indicates the release of hot, high pressure hydrocarbon fluids from the Monterey Formation in the Santa Barbara basin into faults along the coastline. Release of the fluids was a result of tectonic deformation in the area about 125,000 to 500,000 years ago.

In more recent times, hydrocarbons continue to seep into the Santa Barbara channel as well as coastal outcrops. Seepage is a result of the natural buoyancy of hydrocarbons within the water-filled rock pores.

In some places, the hydrocarbons form large tar mounds that are tens of thousands of years old. Modern seepage is most concentrated in areas of thin sediment cover as well as along faults and intense fracturing.

The amount of seepage is primarily documented by sonar surveys of bubble plumes in the water column as well as seep gas captured at seep tents installed in the early 1980s.

Providing the best long-term quantitative estimates of seepage into the channel, the tents are unique for their record of recording seepage rates over nearly 30 years.

It is clear that offshore hydrocarbon production has a marked effect on seepage into the seep tents. Wells completed near or beneath the seep tent reduce the seepage into the tent.

A single recent well, completed in 2013 resulted in the complete shut off of seepage into the seep tent within a month. Most of the current seepage is in areas where platform production wells have not reached. 

Boles was a professor at UCSB for 34 years before “retiring” in 2008. He holds a B.S. in geology from Purdue University, an M.S. in geology from University of Wyoming and Ph.D. in geology from University of Otago, New Zealand. He also served as a post doctoral fellow at University of Wyoming.

He served as a consultant to numerous companies (mostly related to hydrocarbon exploration and production, some work with engineering environmental companies) between 1975-2015.

His main research specialty is diagenesis, which is a study of chemical and physical processes that change sediments into rocks. 

Boles’s current research pursuits include fault-related mantle helium in Southern California, the relation of offshore hydrocarbon production to natural seeps and spontaneous combustion in landslides.

His talk is free for members and $10 for non-members. To register, go to or call 805.456.8747. 

The lecture series is sponsored by Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, John C. Woodward and Silvio Di Loreto.

Dennis Schuett represents the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.

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