Beef Fat: A Kinder, Gentler Oil Spill

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The Houston Shipping Channel was greased on Wednesday by the latest U.S. environmental disaster, when a storage tank holding 250,000 gallons of beef fat ruptured. As much as 15,000 gallons of beef fat spilled into the vital transportation waterway through storage drains.

The 25-mile long marine artery is key to the refining and transportation of oil by many big energy companies, including Exxon Mobil ( XOM), Royal Dutch Shell ( RDS.A), and Valero Energy ( VLO).

The U.S. Coast Guard had six boats in the Houston Shipping Channel working with coagulated fat booms on Wednesday to clean up the spill.

Finally, a spill for which Big Oil can't be blamed and for which there is no need of BP's ( BP) top hat or containment dome or bottom kill -- just the old reliable coagulated fat boom.

Indeed, officials working on the spill told the assembled press on Wednesday that, luckily, beef fat is easy to clean up, as it solidifies at room temperature. The second the beef fat hit the water it congealed into miniature versions of a arctic ice flows, tan-colored tallow slivers helplessly floating on the surface of the commercial waterway and dreaming of a home in a box of Jell-O.

While the bare bones of the beef fat spill story focused on the impact to the shipping of crude -- the impact was expected to be minimal -- there's a hidden gem of an opportunity in the beef fat spill. If the fat's where the flavor is, as any chef will tell you, the beef fat may be where the next great fuel source and market opportunity exists also.

Post the BP Oil Spill, this is one sure-fire way to avoid future oil spills and, at the same time, deliver on the long-held dream of American energy independence. President Obama has already flip-flopped on his plans to open up vast areas of the U.S. offshore waters to new drilling as a result of the BP oil spill. Permitting for new wells, even shallow water wells, has turned into a Kafka-esque nightmare of bureaucratic crossed "t" and dotted "i" terror.

In fact, the entire Big Oil club remains under intense scrutiny as a result of the BP oil spill. The Presidential Commission just released its latest update on the causes of the BP disaster, and instead of pointing the finger squarely at BP, said that "lax industry practices" were a part of the problem.

Speaking at an energy conference in Austin on Thursday, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson took umbrage with this account of the BP oil spill. "I do not agree that this is an industry-wide problem," Tillerson is quoted by Reuters as saying at the energy conference. "The commission did not investigate the entire industry. It seems to ignore years of record of good performance, so I do not agree with that conclusion," the ExxonMobil CEO said.

The major oil companies, including Exxon, Shell, Chevron ( CVX) and ConocoPhillips ( COP) are now pouring $1 billion into the Marine Well Containment Company to convince the government that any offshore oil spill subsequent to the BP fiasco will be rapidly contained and cleaned up.

Yet it's not necessary to go to all that trouble. Let's consider a few simple facts:

First, America has always been known for its "excellence." American excellence implies that every problem is a market opportunity, and every opportunity is likely to be solved by American ingenuity before the rest of the world figures it out.

Second, it's clear that in this country we have an unlimited supply of beef fat -- anyone who has watched Food Inc. or been to a Sam's Club meat section knows the veritable holocaust of beef that goes on behind closed slaughterhouse doors across the land. Therefore, it wouldn't hurt the American waistline if a little more beef fat went into the transportation and energy sectors, as opposed to arteries and mid-western Ponderosa steam tables.

Finally, the Pink Sheets are rife with bound-to-be useless stocks converting cheat grass, corn, wood chips, carbon dioxide, algae, marijuana, banana peels and probably even Wal-Mart dumpster garbage into the next great power source -- but as of yet there is no beef fat stock play in this sector.

And here's the light bulb moment: Seeing all that beef fat so easily skimmed from the surface of the Houston Shipping Channel makes one dream of a day when the worst environmental disaster imaginable in vulnerable marine ecosystems is limited to the scent of hamburger.

Indeed, if only beef fat can be converted into engine fuel, this dream could become reality, and Americans will not only have clean waterways in which to swim and swallow the equivalent of a Lipton beef broth cup-o-soup, but the problem of American energy independence will finally be knocked off the 21st Century to-do list.

An environmental critic may cry that beef fat could be as bad for the marine environment as crude oil.

For one, we think Americans vacationing on the Gulf of Mexico would see it as an added bonus if they could swallow beef fat instead of salty water tinged with crude. It's like the meal that keeps on giving, and it could minimize the need for the leisure set to leave the beach when appetite beckons during priceless, sunny mid-day vacation hours.

And while environmental watchdogs may begin a new round of fear-mongering with allegations that the beef fat spill could lead to Gulf seagulls that turn Franken-bird and grow hooves, and spawning fish on the endangered species list that lay little pearls of Jell-O instead of roe, the Coast Guard said the spill is expected to have a minimal environmental impact.

Warren Buffett always says that when you smell fear in the markets, it's time to buy. The smell of beef fat may also fit within the guidelines of this Omaha proverb.

-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.

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