A while ago – a long while ago – I read a post-apocalyptic novel about the end of oil. This was back in the 90s, well before the whole peak oil debate arose, so the authors took a different tack. In this novel, instead of the gradual end of the world through peak oil – as occurs in World Made by Hand – the planet’s supply of oil disappears after scientists release a virus designed to clean up a massive oil spill in San Francisco Harbor.
Ill Wind opens with a supertanker known as the Oilstar Zoroaster entering San Francisco Bay, laden with 1 million or so barrels of crude oil. There is a moment’s distraction and then the supertanker smashes into one of the Golden Gate Bridge’s supports and is ripped open.
Oilstar executives faced with an Exxon Valdez-like disaster in the midst of one of California’s largest cities, scramble for a way to deal with the disaster. Dr. Alex Kramer and his assistant Mitch Stone – from the company’s own “bioremediation research” department offer a solution – the Prometheus microbe, a genetically engineered organism with a thirst for crude oil. They claim it will remove 2/3 of the oil and its by-products are water and carbon dioxide. And because it can’t become airborne, it won’t spread beyond the harbor. The Board and CEO are elated and order its use. What they are not aware of is the hidden agenda that Kramer and Stone have – a desire to rid the world of gas/oil and have hidden the fact that Prometheus was engineered to go airborne. Within a few hours of its use, cars in Bay Area begin to stall, their tanks drained of gas. The petro-plague spreads quickly and soon reduces everything made of crude oil – including gas and plastic items – to a grey goo.
Thus is the world forced to suddenly and inexplicably deal with the collapse of our high energy civilization.
The book is full of great characters and until I re-read it recently, I had forgotten them. The sleazy politician who thinks with his dick more often than his brain, the hardy everyman who adapts no matter what the world throws at him, the scientist desperate to avoid calamity and the would-be strongman who would impose his will on those around him.
If you haven’t read Ill Wind yet, check your local library or used book store and read it – it’s a really great story on the end of oil.