Burning Ancient Ocean Life: The Geology of an Oil Reserve

Uploaded by sfbaynps on 22.09.2011

jbjb ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ [Cassandra Brooks] This is the Natural Laboratory, a
podcast exploring science for Bay Area National Parks. I m Cassandra Brooks. [intro music]
Phytoplankton form the base of the ocean s food chains transferring energy from the sun
to sustain the global ocean. These tiny floating plants account for half of the photosynthetic
activity on Earth. They also generate the majority of our fossil fuels. [Ivano Aiello]
Ninety-five percent of oil is marine algae, marine plankton [Cassandra Brooks] Ninety-five
percent? [Ivano Aiello] The vast majority of oil comes from marine plankton. [Cassandra
Brooks] That s Ivano Aiello, a geological oceanographer at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
in Monterey Bay, California. According to Ivano, plankton populations bloom, then die
and drift to the seafloor. Slowly, they accumulate, getting compressed and buried under sediments,
and so long as they are in low oxygen conditions, the plankton will be preserved. And how long
of a time period are we talking about here for all of this to happen? [Ivano Aiello]
Millions, to hundreds of millions of years, it takes millions of years for oil to form.
[Cassandra Brooks] So even though probably right now there is new oil being formed all
the time [Ivano Aiello] ll have to wait millions to hundreds of millions of years. The scale
of things we are talking about is insane. Our rate of consumption is orders of magnitude
faster than anything that has to do with the actual formation of oil. We are exploiting
something that moves so slowly, there is no way that it can be regenerated anytime soon.
[Ivano Aiello] But that s what we use in our cars something that formed 400 million years
ago. So it would be really nice to have this at the gas station so people will say, wait
a second, I m burning this gas in the next two hours and it took 200 million years to
form?! [Cassandra Brooks] And it isn t even just gas for our cars; our entire western
lives depend on petroleum products. Our roads are covered in tar. Petroleum based plastics
are all around us in our phones, computers, cameras, toys, clothes, toothbrushes, and
cosmetic bottles. And almost everything we buy at the grocery store is covered in plastic.
[Cassandra Brooks] And while we once found reserves of oil so rich and abundant they
came bubbling out of the ground, we now have to probe ever deeper and farther. At this
point, we have to use a great deal of oil to drill for more oil. [Ivano Aiello] So that
s the problem. When we were working on land mostly, you could poke the ground and oil
comes out, that was it. It cost one gallon to drill 100 gallons. Now we are talking about
one gallon of oil to drill I don t know, 10 gallons of oil or 20, so it s becoming more
and more expensive. That s the problem and when you push the technology offshore, not
only do you increase the risks, but also it s very expensive. An offshore oil rig is a
really expensive thing to run. But our thirst for oil is so much, we really are like drug
addicts now, we are looking for a little drop somewhere. [Ivano Aiello] So I gave a lecture
after the oil spill [Cassandra Brooks] You did? [Ivano Aiello] Yeah, on the Deepwater
Horizon, so that s why it was neat you asked me to talk to you, I was reading more about
offshore drilling. This is a map from 2006. There are 3,858 oil and gas platform only
in the Gulf of Mexico. It s covered. [Cassandra Brooks] No way. [Ivano Aiello] Yes, way, I
mean look at that. They are just next to each other. So think about when you have a hurricane
coming through this thing. It s insane I don t know Our society is a fossil fuel based
society, our civilization in the last several hundreds years since the beginning of the
industrial revolution has been completely dependent on fossil fuels. But that s why
we ve had this amazing increase in technology in the last few hundred years and also life
quality. Unfortunately, it allows us to travel, to make clothing and containers, everything,
everything. But it s a limited resource. [Cassandra Brooks] Here in 2011, we are at a crossroads;
those tiny plankton sinking and compressing over millions of years can t support our appetite
for energy. As humans, we have incredible ingenuity, which is why we ve been so efficient
at using up our oil reserves. As we look to the future, perhaps it s time to apply that
same ingenuity to cutting energy consumption and employing alternative energies, ones that
don t depend on ancient ocean plants. With the Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center,
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