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BALANCING ACT: Oil and water don't mix

Staff writer

I used to believe the old saying that oil and water do not mix, but now I’m not so sure.

A couple of circumstances I thought unrelated now swirl in my head, kind of like a recipe for disaster that just might be playing out right in front of us in Marion County.

Has anyone ever stopped to wonder why we have such an increase of blue-green algae problems the past two years?

Yes, we have drought dilemmas to consider. Yes, there might possible be a connection to chemical runoff. But has anyone ever here in Marion County ever questioned the connection between blue-green algae and oil?

Correct me if I am wrong, but years ago didn’t Marion County used to be home to one of the largest oil fields in the state? Lost Springs in northern Marion County used to be a boomtown because of oil.

The question I would like answered is what, exactly, lies under the Marion Reservoir and how did the Corps of Engineers cap off all those oil producing wells back 50-or-so years ago?

Is it possible that oil leaking from old wells is contaminating the reservoir and creating an ideal growing environment for blue-green algae?

In addition, how does the recent scramble for oil-lease rights and the surfacing of fracking opportunists fit into the whole picture of our underground water supply?

I know tests are routinely performed on reservoir and lake waters in our county, and I assume there are dedicated scientists studying in-depth the blue-green algae problem much more academically than I could even imagine. But I still have questions.

There are articles online linking oil production and blue-green algae. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection states blue-green algae grows in environments rich in phosphorus and nitrogen. According to the Journal of American Oil Chemists’ Society, oil contains phosphorus, as well as zinc or magnesium oxide.

So maybe, just maybe, blue-green algae likes to grow in oil-enriched water. Ironically, for some purposes, that would not be a bad thing.

At Earthrise in California, the first commercially established blue-green algae farm in the U.S., cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, is produced to create high yields of crude oil.

According to Rachel Armstrong, an interdisciplinary medical practitioner at Next Nature, algae bacteria could be used to make bioplastics, animal feed, cosmetics, building materials, even fertilizer. Armstrong also said, however, there are currently more ways being developed to kill the simple photosynthetic plants than to fruitfully use them.

It would be interesting to find out if other bodies of water placed under warnings for blue-green algae are located on or near oil-production fields.

Maybe what I see as a connection between the oil/water/blue-green algae problem in Marion County is only in my own mind, because I certainly have not seen any public officials or environmental services comment on it.

Blaming farmers for food production practices seems to be a much easier route than investigating further into the problem. Maybe it is all part of a governmental cover-up as to the real source of the toxic invasion.

Maybe not. But still, spending time in the Flint Hills north of Durham the other day investigating a contaminated water source brought it all back into focus for me.

Recently this paper published a report of a herd in northern Marion County that suffered losses because of contaminated water … water that may have had blue-green algae in it.

Several 400-pound calves recently died in the pasture I visited last week north of Durham. Thirsty cattle were not drinking the water that bubbled up from spring-fed pools. The water, which should have been clear and cool, looked bad with an oily-scummy surface, and it smelled bad too.

The owner of the cattle dug down into the springhead to determine if it was possible to put in a pipe to get more water to the surface. The water was yucky from underground.

Could it be that underground oil beds, capped off long ago when the Marion Reservoir was created, are now leaking and contaminating the area’s water supply? Is oil-laced water providing a hotbed for blue-green algae production in Marion County water sources?

I think in the very near future, water is going to become one of the most important commodities known to humankind. Let us be sure to figure out how to take care of our water sources in Marion County before it is too late and we have to start marketing blue-green algae products.

Last modified July 3, 2012

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