Thursday, August 26, 2010

Oil-Eating Bacteria Go To Work

I'm in the crowd that thinks what happened with the BP oil spill was ridiculous (of course, who doesn't), however I also feel like the whole story has not been told. This piece from Discover Magazine demonstrates how a group of bacteria have arrived on the scene (all on there own by the way) to start eating the oil and making the waters clean again....what? Its true, here is an excerpt:

In the Gulf of Mexico, nature’s janitors are hard at work, mopping up the aftermath of a man-made disaster. On 20 April, 2010, an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig unleashed the largest oil spill in US history. Now, a team of American scientists led by Terry Hazen have shown that just a month or so after the incident, a microscopic clean-up crew had already started to digest the mess.

The ocean is home to many groups of bacteria that can break down the chemicals found in crude oil. Some, like Alcanivorax, are oil-eating specialists that are usually found in low numbers, only to bloom when oil spills provide them with a sudden banquet. That’s exactly what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico. Hazen has found that these oil-eaters have swelled in number in the contaminated waters.

Why is this important and why is this story appearing on a finance blog?

Oil is quite simply the lifeblood of our prosperity - think about your life as it exists right now if there were no oil or if oil were $15 per gallon. I'm not much of a fan of the stuff and am in the crowd that believes we MUST find a more attractive option for fueling our prosperity - one that is renewable, clean and cheap. But the fact remains that until we find such a fuel - we need oil to provide a bridge. If you think the economy is bad now, just wait till oil is $5 or $10 or $15 per gallon. Sure, it might force a switchover to something else - but the short-mid term pain would be nightmarish. My point? The oil spill has caused us to think that we can't drill for oil offshore, this leads to less oil discovery and less oil.....which without a corresponding drop in demand means higher oil prices. We need drilling, even if you hate it, we need it. These bacteria might be part of our solution to the problems that we will experience in the future when we drill.

Scott Dauenhauer CFP, MSFP, AIF