BREAKING NEWS: Crude oil is naturalRichard Treadgold | May 30, 2012
But wait, there’s more: it’s biodegradable too
Let us remind ourselves that the crude oil we recover from under our feet is neither foreign nor man-made, nor is it artificial. It is produced entirely by Mother Nature who occasionally spills it. Frequently spills it.
Ecosystems around the world have been dealing with these spills for millions of years. Certain bacteria rise to the occasion by eating it, although creatures poorly equipped to handle the oil can be killed.
The Earth looks after itself remarkably well no matter how we might frighten ourselves by imagining that it doesn’t.
The web site of Greenpeace UK summarises their opposition to petroleum fuels on the grounds of the carbon dioxide “pollution”:
Climate change is the greatest environmental threat humanity has ever faced and the biggest challenge. Climate change is caused by the build up of greenhouse gases – from burning fossil fuels and the destruction of areas that store massive amounts of carbon like the world’s rainforests. No one knows how much warming is “safe” but we know that climate change is already harming people and ecosystems around the globe.
Sure, burning almost anything adds minutely to “greenhouse” gases, but the claim that climate change is “already harming people and ecosystems” is ridiculous, for no climate changes in the last two hundred years have been outside normal variability.
Our hundred year reliance on oil is at a turning point. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico put the spotlight on the far reaching consequences that our addiction to oil is having on the natural world and on the climate.
But the giant oil fields that the industry hoped would last forever are starting to run dry. Faced with increasing restraints on access to the easy oil, companies are pushing in to areas previously considered too inaccessible, expensive or too risky to exploit. And this means going to greater and greater extremes to squeeze the last drops of oil from the earth – scraping the barrel in the tar sands of Canada, potentially violating the fragile ecosystems of the Arctic and now the pristine coastlines of New Zealand.
It will surprise some to learn that Neanderthals were using bitumen 40,000 years ago. The area of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was riddled with hundreds of pure bitumen seepages. The Mesopotamians used the bitumen for waterproofing boats and buildings. (Wikipedia)
There are thousands of bacteria capable of consuming components of crude oil. Hydrocarbons are present in every ecosystem and the microbes that consume them are in turn consumed by something else, so the energy contained in the oil contributes to the ecosystem.
The world’s largest natural oil seep is underwater at Coal Oil Point in the Santa Barbara Channel, California. It puts out up to 59 tons of methane, other organic gases and lighter distillates every day. In addition it releases 24,000 litres per day, or perhaps 22 tons, of liquid oil and bitumen.
Over a year, that’s 21,500 tons of volatile gas and 8.8 million litres (8 tons) of crude oil.
Continuous natural seeps in the Gulf of Mexico contribute the equivalent of two Exxon Valdez spills every year into the ocean. That’s been going on for thousands of years, which is why the bacteria have adapted to exploit the oil.
A gift from Gaia
Good old Mother Nature has been “spilling” oil for thousands of years, and in quantities that dwarf our feeble efforts. Spilling oil is nothing you’d want to do, in fact you’d be sensible to take every precaution against it, and then some, and still be prepared to clean up the dangerous mess as soon as it happened, if it happened.
But there’s no need to get our knickers in a knot at the thought of it. It’s a gift from Gaia, after all. Just be sensible.
Of a certainty it’s a mess and even fatal if you get stuck in it, but it lasts just weeks or months — it does not destroy the ecosystem, no matter how loudly Greenpeace hollers, and it’s been lifting our living standards for over a hundred years.