The Brighter Side of the BP Oil Spill

Yes, you can think of the BP well blowout as the end of the road if you want to – if not the end of the world. Or you can look at how this will change the energy landscape in general, and the oil industry in particular. And then you can get out in front of it, and act and invest accordingly.

At his presentation in Vancouver, Marcio Mello made the point – the scientific, geologic fact – that oil routinely seeps into the oceans across the world, and has done so throughout geologic history. Many – maybe most – of the world’s oil discoveries have some connection with natural seeps (which is why, for example, Col. Drake drilled his famous oil well at Titusville in August 1859). And thus, due to ubiquitous oil seeps, there are oil-eating bacteria in nature that bloom in the presence of oil, and ‘eat’ the mess up.

Marcio directed a major project at Petrobras that catalogued over 2,600 different kinds of oil-eating bacteria. Indeed, Petrobras has a huge ‘bug library’ with detailed data and specimens of oil-eating bacteria that thrive in all sorts of different petroleum environments. (Petrobras offered its expertise to the US government after the BP well blowout in April, and the Obama administration turned it down.)

The total of oil naturally leaking into the Gulf is in the range of tens of millions of barrels per year, or more than what blew out from the BP well over the past three months. Yet the Mexican seeps are not “news” – certainly not an environmental disaster – because the oil-eating bacteria somehow keep this naturally occurring Mexican oil under control.

In Marcio’s view, the oil from the BP well blowout should disappear pretty quickly, and certainly faster than most people think. Also, according to Marcio, the long-term impact of the oil will be less than most people fear.

Byron King
for The Daily Reckoning