BREAKING NEWS: Crude oil is natural

Oil spill

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.

Time-honoured usage

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.

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13 Thoughts on “BREAKING NEWS: Crude oil is natural

  1. Billy on 31/05/2012 at 9:34 am said:

    Hi Richard,

    I worked for 45 years at Port Taranaki. Many, many times I have seen oil coming up from the sea bed. Even the brightest scientists are amazed how quickly the area around the Gulf oil spill has recovered. Those wee oil gobblers can be a menace if you get them in your bunker fuel.

    Far too much hullaballoo is caused over so much as a small oil spill. Human spillage would only account for the minutest amount compared to mother nature.

    Keep up the good work.

    • It’s really great to have confirmation from an insider, Billy. Now you mention it, I remember reading about the problems of getting those bacteria in your fuel tanks. We make a lot of fuss over nothing when we’re driven by ideology, not reason.

      Thanks for your encouragement.

  2. bulaman on 31/05/2012 at 11:19 am said:

    WWF might get some heat after this bit of sunshine arrived on their goings on!

    ht No Fracking consensus

  3. Billy on 31/05/2012 at 6:25 pm said:

    Hi again Richard. When dredging the port, there was a lot of oil coming to the surface. It all dispersed naturally. The only complaints were from it sticking to hippies’ surfboards. It was in big globules like tallow. I also spent time at Mt Manganui, chasing oil from the Rena. Rest assured nature will take care of that better than our futile attempt at trying to fix the problem. We spent hours burning fuel and being directed by helicopters. In the end, there was not enough oil to scoop up, so we just let it go. You are so right about being driven by ideology and not reason. You probably remember the ARC being infested with the bacteria in their buses. They fitted magnetic filters. Not sure if they work. I have rolled up a lot of bacteria in fuel tanks. It’s like rolling up thick carpet. It is apparently very toxic. It just annoys me that the goody goodys seem to want to fix something that isn’t broken. Mother nature is bigger than we can imagine. Good luck with your site. Visit you daily.

    • It feels good to meet a real fan, Billy, thanks.

    • Andy on 01/06/2012 at 9:06 am said:

      Of course, everything is ultimately “natural”.

      I expect we’ll see Mother Nature doing her best to reclaim those hideously expensive UK offshore wind turbines in due course.

      There’s nothing like a good bit of sea spray from the old briny to return the 600ft towers back to whence they came.

  4. Richard C (NZ) on 01/06/2012 at 5:18 pm said:

    The term “light sweet” originated because the drillers could taste it when it gushed all over them (not that I’m recommending the practice).

    Re the Greenpeace UK statement – what a load of piffle.

  5. Billy on 01/06/2012 at 8:48 pm said:

    Hi Richard. I must inform you that I am not a climate scientist. My conclusions come totally from observation. I am only a marine engineer. I have spent time in many ports around NZ. I have seen many changes pertaining to oil spills, pollution, etc. We have come a long way. The places I have been show a marked improvement in water quality. I have been on many runs to Kupe, Maari, and all the oil fields off Taranaki. All sea temps are recorded on each watch, and I have never observed any sea temps rising in all my trips to the oil fields. I am not paid by big oil. I am in fact on the pittance paid to old age pensioners by the govt. So I have no axe to grind. I just want to present the facts as I see them. Climate models do nothing for me. GIGO so to speak. Keep up the good work. Cheers, Bill.

    • Billy, your comments have the ring of honesty to them, and they are refreshing for that. Presenting the facts “as you see them” is the guiding principle of this web site. There’s not much better a man can do — except that when the facts are against him he changes his mind.

  6. Andy on 04/06/2012 at 9:37 am said:

    In other breaking news, Anthony Watts notes that James Hansen published a paper in 2000 that suggested that factors other that CO2 have been driving recent warming

    • Andy on 06/06/2012 at 10:44 am said:

      and in more breaking news, earthquakes and tsunamis are caused by climate change, according to a “top scientist’ at the University of London

      The comments on this article suggest how low the public’s view has become on these “top scientists”.

      h/t WUWT

    • Richard C (NZ) on 06/06/2012 at 1:04 pm said:

      Andy, I enjoyed your delicate inquiry at HT:-

      “Is there a scientific explanation as to why the CO2 levels at Barrow are higher than elsewhere in the world?”

      And Gareth’s response:-

      “Annual cycle is largest in NH because it’s mostly land (more vegetation to grow/decay with the seasons)”

      So high levels of CO2 at Barrow are of natural origin and not 4×4’s, interesting. But in his post “…the planet has hit a notable milestone on its rapid transition to a new climate state”, Barrow rapidly morphs into “the planet” in a breathless sequence of this natural phenomenon

      You can see the devastating effect on local temperature here:-

      February and December have been hit hardest with blistering trends 0.076 C/yr (7.6 C/century) and 0.069 C/yr (6.9 C/century) respectively from 1945 – 2008.

      Except that February fluctuated wildly between -36 C in 1984 and -13 C in 1989 (CO2 can do that).

      Tiksi Russia (not part of “the planet”) has escaped being gripped by CO2. October, -0.024 C/yr or -2.4 C/century. February, 0.02 C/yr or 2 C/century.

      Re “…earthquakes and tsunamis are caused by climate change”

      “Wrt El Nino and seismicity, the main link is more likely the other way. The effects of seismicity and ocean vents are negligible but El Nino causes substantial changes in winds and surface wind stress that creates torque on the earth, part of which changes ocean currents, so if there is a link it is more likely causal from El Nino” – Dr Kevin Trenberth

      So there you have it from a climate scientist, El Nino causes seismic events contrary to the papers from geo science (clearly an inferior discipline) suggesting seismicity, volcanism and venting modulates El Nino.

    • Richard C (NZ) on 06/06/2012 at 2:00 pm said:

      Bill McGuire, author of the following 2 – 4 hanky weepies:-

      A Guide to the End of the World: Everything You Never Wanted to Know

      Global Catastrophes

      Seven Years to Save the Planet: The Questions… and Answers

      Surviving Armageddon: Solutions for a Threatened Planet

      Volcano Instability On The Earth And Other Planets

      Raging Planet

      Volcanoes Of The World

      Natural Hazards And Environmental Change

      Apocalypse: A Natural History of Global Disasters

      Waking the Giant

      Or as Allen Alden at Geology put it in February when ‘Waking the Giant ‘ came out:-

      “Scientist and author Bill McGuire wants us all to know that global warming could “persuade the ground to shake, volcanoes to rumble and tsunamis to crash on to unsuspecting coastlines.” His article in The Guardian on Sunday is getting lots of page views. It’s basically a brief for McGuire’s new book, Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes published by Oxford University Press.

      This is the state of popular science nowadays: actual research has interesting things to say about crustal stress and its effects on natural hazards, but a major academic publisher seeks readers through a professional hand-wringer known for doomsday scenarios. And a major world newspaper publishes the author’s own tendentious press release rather than an independent review.”


      “So until reviews come out by knowledgeable readers (or I have a chance to review the actual book myself), read McGuire’s article very carefully—don’t exaggerate beyond his exact wording. And expect the worst, namely, doomsday outbursts from people whose lives center around the delicious prospect of the world ending”

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