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The real Oil Catastrophe?

MONDAY JUNE 14, 2010

Is the spill another reason for oil companies and governments to further raise prices?

There is no doubt that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is an unfortunate calamity. But a sense of proportion is lacking, as usual when it comes to the news. As terrible as it is, especially to wild life in the area, it is not as if spillage doesn’t happen regularly. Oil leaks from tankers around the world have been causing "environmental disasters" about once every 5 years. After each the oil quietly dissipates, or by now the sea would be full of oil and all the beaches dead zones. Oil wells in the same Gulf of Mexico have been leaking since 2004. And we may legitimately ask, what happened before cars and humans?

It is easy to forget that oil has been sitting underground for thousands of years. The ground means the ground under the sea in most cases, for 75% of the surface of the earth is water and it can be safely assumed that oil is situated under the sea in the same distributed proportion. Geologists know that volcanoes are mostly under the sea and if it were not for undersea volcanoes there would be no land. NZ was formed along the fault line that starts as the Southern Alps near Te Anau and runs northeast, becoming the Mamakus, Kaimanawas and Kaimais, finally the Coromandel Ranges. Iceland was also formed by land jumping out of the sea. Pacific atolls sit astride tectonic faults, because that is their origin, which is why bits of land poking out of the ocean like Tuvalu rise and sink again like nature's elevators.

Do volcanoes have eyes and a brain? Can they stealthily erupt so as not to disturb oil deposits? Or is it more logical that there would be many oil pools sitting directly over volcanic eruption sources? Especially as fault lines are also where the biggest oil reserves are being found. Oil is actually formed in the heat of volcanism, which is why oil consortiums search the tectonic joins first. Old dormant volcanoes can spring back into life long after oil has formed in the upper layers of the same location. Oil deposits have been blown up by natural eruptions and fissions a zillion times over the 4.5billion years of our geological history.

We can safely assume that nature has found ways of dealing with it. Certain bacteria are able to feed off petroleum oil which is, in fact, full of these kinds of bacteria. Some bacteria live in the petroleum oil in its natural state. Some live on beaches. A great number of different such micro-organisms, hundreds, live together. There are oil-feeding bacteria of all kinds: those that eat the oil rapidly and those that degrade the petroleum very slowly, a wide variety. And it would seem that these bacteria work as a team. Some digest the big hydrocarbon molecules of oil generating much shorter chains of carbon; other bacteria consume these shorter chains. It is a pac-man-like food chain similar to the world of fish, where the bigger species eat the smaller. At the termination of this teamwork, the oil has completely disappeared – only remains of water and carbon dioxide are left..

Why, perhaps you ask, aren’t we told about this? Surely school children would be interested, as a change from their given diet of continual alarmism. Is it because the media want us to believe the planet is going to fizzle up and die next week, so we will buy papers? If GW won’t do it, farting cows will. If they don’t, then a planetary alignment will in 2012, if that won’t do it an oil spill will, or an Icelandic volcano, or too many people will eat up all the food. Indeed what we are told is that yes, oil does happen to be part of nature, but releasing it all in one lump is bad for the environment, destructive to the point of choking all life forms.

If this sounds strangely familiar, CO2 was accused of the same villainousness. CO2 from the atmosphere is consumed by trees, which is how they get to grow. A molecule of carbon (from CO2) is added to a molecule of water which makes a carbohydrate molecule, hence the name carbo-hydr-ate, and which is the building block of nature. Burning firewood releases the CO2 back to the air. The atmosphere is always CO2 deficient. In the distant past before vegetation, the air was CO2-rich. Along came plants and grabbed it. When fossil fuels are burned CO2 is returned to the point of origin, the atmosphere. Global warming was supposed to be about burning CO2 too fast and wrecking the air by threatening to choke all life forms.

Oil was known to be out at sea when native populations told of it drifting onto beaches, which gave oil companies clues on where on the coast to search. Such was the case at Taranaki. Oil sands are a mixture of sand, clay, water and deposits of bitumen. Canadian tar sand is strip mined and hauled in big trucks to a facility that uses solvents, detergents, heat and centrifuges to extract bitumen, a tarry substance. (The local indigenous people used bitumen to waterproof their canoes.) These tar sands are the second-largest oil deposit in the world, bigger then Iraq, Iran, or Russia, and exceeded only by Saudi Arabia and lie beneath more than 141,000 square kilometres (54,000 square miles) of northern Alberta forest.

The oil on beaches sitting in tar sand can be recovered, if the microbes don't get there first, and Canada is cold enough to have fewer microbes. Tar sands produce 1.3 million barrels of heavy oil a day and supply the US, the world’s largest oil consumer, with 13 per cent of its crude imports. That share could grow to 37 per cent. China, the world’s second-largest oil consumer, has proposed a strategic alliance with Canada to transport dirty oil by supertanker to Asian refineries. Like many European oil companies, Royal Dutch Shell has banked its entire future on production of dirty oil from the tar sands. It is on track to become the world’s most carbon-intensive company. Oil sands may prove to be a greener and safer way of extracting oil, for rigs at sea could be replaced with ground-based extractors. Canada’s bitumen deposits are trapped in sand and clay. And the oil got there from the drift and redistribution of oil by volcanic eruption, tectonic displacement over the years, and underwater leakage.

The Gulf Oil spill is part of a natural process, in this case given a nudge by Man, but is not the end of the environment as we know it. World oil prices will rise, ostensibly to cover costs of collateral and environmental damage either real, imagined or perceived, plus the costs of expensive spin-doctoring, creating a sudden feeding-trough that will have a few more zeros added as expenses for good measure by the oil cartels. Why waste a good catastrophe? The real disaster will be, as usual, for people trying to make ends meet.


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