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: