Oil on lakes, in the ground and in oceans is naturally there; spills are inconsequential.

Jack Hellner recently suggested that oil spills are only moderately harmful to the environment.

I disagree.

Oil in the environment is normally there and has been for centuries. That’s how people first discovered the stuff. In California’s uber-environmentalist Santa Barbara County, an estimated 11 to 160 barrels of oil seep into the ocean daily and have for countless centuries; the locals have made attempts at capping it. They have failed so far

In nature, there are the butanes, gasolines and kerosene in the oil, which, when deposited on the surface, evaporate off as naphtha (probably the basis of the ancient Greek fire). Ultraviolet light from the sun breaks these into carbon dioxide and water. 

The heavier oil distillates like fuel oil, the bunker oils, are digested by bacteria, (as noted by Hellner) converting them into simple organic compounds that other organisms feast on, leading to a localized exuberant biodiversity. 

I did find an analysis of the fish catches after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill but can’t find it now.  I recall that there was no fishing in that area for a year but in the following year the catch was about normal except for some obscure trash species that had an explosive increase in numbers. [These accounts by Humberto Fontova about the broad phenomenon are useful. -editor].

The heavier components of oil remain as lumps called bitumen or asphalt. We use it as cement to build our roads. The Dead Sea was called Lake Asphaltites because of the gooey pebbles that floated onto the surface from underwater seeps. This asphalt was used to coat Egyptian mummies. Oil and asphalt found floating on lakes or in puddles was used by Indians to caulk canoes, and as medicines. 

Oil exists beneath the surface of the earth under pressure that causes it to seep to the surface by any available route. When a well is drilled into a pocket of contained oil the pressure forces it to gush out and over the wellhead. The pressure in the pool of drilled oil gradually falls, and the seep ceases. In this way, oil drilling actually has stopped numerous spills of oil onto the surface where it fouled land and water for eons.

Hellner’s cited oil spill accident allows environmentalists to make arguments against drilling. If environmentalists really wanted to preserve pristine nature, they would be appalled that the lack of oil spills by the petroleum industry has violated the natural environment where widespread oil seeps enriched the environment well before mankind interfered.

Erwin Haas M.D. M.B.A., is an infectious diseases consultant and has served as a flight surgeon in Vietnam and as a city commissioner in Kentwood, Michigan. He is a policy advisor at the Heartland Institute, has published 12 articles in peer-reviewed scientific medical journals -- and in the American Thinker, Liberty Magazine, Lew Rockwell, and Medical Economics and has written several books including “A Brewery Worker’s Boy in Vietnam.”

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