Lunar Water: Gold Rush? Oil Boom? Both?

Prospector Daniel Plainview - a fan of oil, seepage and milkshakes. And, oh yes, blood...lots and lots of blood...

With NASA’s confirmation today of water on the moon, the folks over at the X Prize Foundation have leaped forward to explain what it all means with two blog postings and a press release. To sum up briefly, it is a “game-changing discovery” that makes the south pole of the moon the “most valuable real estate in the solar system” and will “lead to new era of lunar exploration.”

CEO Peter Diamandis can’t quite decide which historical analogy is most appropriate, so he cites two of Earth’s most valuable – and fought over – resources:

From an economic point of view, water on the Moon is the equivalent of finding “gold in the hills of California.” Translation: there is the potential for a California gold rush to hit the space nations in the years ahead. It may be that governments and/or companies will seek to be first to the ice-fields of the Lunar South Pole and make a claim…

The question is not too dissimilar to those questions asked when oil was discovered buried deep under the Earth or under the oceans…. Think of this location as the ‘Saudi Oil fields’ of the solar system. I could imagine that some governments or corporations will want to race to this real estate and stake their claim in the decade ahead.

Ah, gold. And black gold. Texas tea. Jed Clampett would be pleased.


This may well be true, although actually getting to the moon (much less doing much there) remains a rather expensive affair.

It’s also true that there has been no shortage of blood spilled over oil, gold and other natural resources. The only thing that might restrain a rush for resources is the Moon Treaty – which is unsigned by most nations and will be widely ignored if water is as valuable as Diamandis believes.

Taking this analogy further, there’s also the interesting question of the type of society that can result when wealth is primarily based on the control of natural resources. Earth-based examples are not very encouraging. Wars, large gaps between rich and poor, autocratic rule, and a lack of economic diversification are just some of the problems that can result.

I’m not trying to rain on the parade here, but if we’re going to take these historical analogies seriously, we’ve got to look at the entire picture. Lots of ugliness. And blood.