Hail Shale
Fracking Yields Another Miracle

Transforming America’s energy fortunes overnight wasn’t enough for fracking—now it seems set to feed the world’s fish. A California biotech company is looking to take advantage of fracking-wrought methane to breed a special kind of bacterium that could be used as a cheaper feedstock for fish. The Economist reports:

[Dr. Alan Shaw, head of the biotechnology firm Calysta] proposes to take advantage of the rock-bottom price of methane, a consequence of the spread of natural-gas fracking, to breed Methylococci en masse as a substitute for the fish-meal such farmers now feed to their charges. […]

At the moment, the world produces about 5m tonnes of fish-meal a year, a number that has been constant for four decades and is limited by the size of the Earth’s fisheries. Demand, however, is growing at 6-8% a year, putting pressure on prices. This has led some fish farmers to adopt soya-based substitutes. These, though, can inflame the fishes’ guts. That, Dr Shaw says, is not a problem with Calysta’s product.

Dr Shaw seems confident Calysta’s system, which should turn out more than 8,000 tonnes of bacterial fish food a year per reactor, can do so at a cost well below the $2,000 a tonne at which fish-meal now sells—and that it will be available commercially by 2018. If this comes to pass, not only will it help fish farmers, but it may also relieve pressure on wild fish stocks in the world’s oceans.

Who saw this coming? If this takes off, not only will it benefit the world’s fish stocks, but it will also create a stronger market for methane, and in so doing could increase the incentive for shale operators to reduce methane leakage (one of the biggest charges greens level against fracking).

Combining hydraulic fracturing with horizontal well-drilling unleashed a flood of oil and gas previously thought to be trapped forever in shale rock, and it did so in just a few years. More breakthroughs lie ahead, and this new fish food could be one of them. The Malthusians of the world would have you believe humanity has hit its high water mark, that we’ve exceeded our planet’s carrying capacity and that gloom and doom await civilization just around the corner, but these Chicken Littles fail to include the accelerating pace of technological change—and the promise that change brings—into their apocalyptic prognostications.

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