Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why Offshore Drilling Is a Big Mistake

As I write this, estimates of the amount of oil which has leaked from the destroyed British Petroleum drilling rig in the Gulf have risen to as much as 2 million gallons. It seems a certainty at this point that this spill, which began when the rig tower exploded on April 20th, will go on to be the worst in U.S. history, dwarfing the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Why?

Because the oil is leaking from the sea floor at a depth of 5000 feet. Available technology for addressing a leak at this depth has not yet been developed. In documents the company submitted in its lease application to drill and pump at this location, it claimed that such a spill was extremely unlikely, and that it was prepared, even so, to address the possibility with state of the art mitigation. Unfortunately, the company knew, as everyone in the industry has always known, that there is no reliable technology to deal efficiently with a catastrophic event such as this one. In other words, though such events may be "unlikely," once they do occur, little can be done to control the spread of crude oil into surrounding ocean. 
The company has explained that the only possible mitigation would be to dig a new "side-well" to reduce the pressure from underground, then cap off the leaks. Estimates on the length of time required to do this are in the "90 day" range. What this means in real terms is that the spill will likely progress unimpeded for over three months, spreading as the tide carries it and emanating throughout the Gulf area, covering the fragile tidelands of Louisiana, Alabama and Western Florida, destroying the fishing stocks and eco-systems of the whole region. Though no one in the media has as yet admitted it publicly, this is going to happen and nothing can be done now to prevent it.     


What are the implications of this occurrence? What can we learn from the events unfolding? 
First, oil companies cannot be trusted to fairly estimate the risks involved in conducting oil mining on our continental shelves. Second, they do not have the resources, or the technical know-how, to deal with a catastrophic event of this magnitude, should it occur. Third, none of the Federal or State agencies has the means to deal with it either. 
Humankind tends towards complacency. Even when we know that we cannot really deal with what nature or accident may cause in our immediate environment, we still are capable of "convincing ourselves" that given potential rewards outweigh the "slim chances" of unforeseen consequences. This may not be an entirely stupid approach; optimism and positive thinking are good things when prudently exercised in many trouble-shooting situations, especially when the alternative may seem worse. 
But with oil exploration and exploitation, the central driving force is profit. Oil companies have extraordinary political and economic power, and can drive institutional policy much more efficiently than any public interest entity can. It may be that we "want to be convinced" of things that are so profitable, and/or of such apparent immediate benefit as cheap gasoline and heating oil. 
But off-shore drilling technology is worse than just a "risky business"; the oil industry has always known that oil spills like this can't be controlled. Now the public too is awakening to this realization. Did the oil industry lie to us about the probable risks, and about their capacity to deal with them? They certainly did. 
Did petroleum engineers, including those who work for our government agencies, also lie to the American public about it? They certainly did.
Petroleum corporations have been lobbying Congress and the coastal states to grant new exploration and mining leases for sites all along our coasts. Areas which once had been considered too fragile ecologically, have recently been put back on the table for discussion. The Obama Administration has openly advocated a resumption of the leasing process, to allow more offshore drilling. In California, the environmental movement has stymied the petroleum industry for the last few decades, citing potential damage to the Pacific marine ecosystems. Over-exploitation of the fishing resources all along our coast, as well as industrial, commercial, and public agency pollution, has already put these ecosystems in a state of crisis. 
Can we trust the petroleum industry, and our government, to protect us from an industrial accident of the kind that has just occurred in the Gulf? Not bloody likely.

The lesson here is, whatever the potential benefits of offshore drilling off our Western ocean coasts, we know the technology of mitigation is non-existent. If we were to permit extensive offshore drilling to occur here, we would have no protections in the event of a spill. What are the odds of failure, given the record of environmental damage from "accidents" or "acts of god" such as typhoons or tsunamis or earthquakes? What would be an "acceptable level of risk" to hold industry to? 
The Gulf Oil Spill of 2010 will provide the immediate answer to those questions. Mass death to our marine fish stocks. Total devastation to the shoreline ecosystems. Despoliation of our riverine ecosystems. Destruction of the tourist and sport fishing trades. These potential losses are far greater than any temporary, and limited benefit (who but the industry really benefits?) from allowing this development. The Gulf Oil Spill should spell the demise of future off-shore drilling. Will it? Probably not. People are stupid. They will entertain any kind of risk, if they can be lulled into complacency. Industry lobbyists know this. 
The future does not look bright for our coastal ecosystems.       


J said...

Can we trust the petroleum industry, and our government, to protect us from an industrial accident of the kind that has just occurred in the Gulf? Not bloody likely.

Agreed. And doing some searching, you find these disasters are quite common--imagine a major earthquake off of like Santa Barbara, where there are quite a few platforms--the platforms explode, and the coast would be inundated in days (along with other massive destruction).

Yet...Obama has said he will continue to push for offshore drilling. For some time, Dame Feinstein held to a firm no-offshore drilling line --then she waffled after ObamaCo and other demos agreed to some o-s drilling.

Following the BP accident, the Demos are back to the "don't blame us" game--when they are hardly different than the GOP in regard to their pro-petroleum stance.

(I have a few posts re petroleum racket and peak oil on my blog).

Ed Baker said...


I'm tearing up my BP credit card and
switching to a Shell credit card

heck I can't wait til we switch to coal-generated energy and all get Tuberculosis like in the olden unregulated daze.


what happens when the oil "spill" gets sucked into the Gulf Stream tide thing that goes around the tip of Fld and up the At;antic Coast?

eventually it will contaminate those new wind-generators off of Nantucket?

and the hurricane season is fast approaching...

I better fill up my SUV tank and spare gas cans
so I can function...just in case I want some fried sea food. or a $13 tomato
picked by a "real" American Card-carrying Union Worker...

It is just "pay back" time
for all of our Greed.

let us not go gently into...


come visit me or call or write when
you have less time. etc

Curtis Faville said...

The estimate is that this oil rig might have accounted for something like 0.0002% or America's oil consumption over the next 30 years.

Like, man, we don't NEED this shit!

Anonymous said...

now Larry Eigner is on facebook! like an oil-slick spreading on water... so things spread on facecebook (and etcs)

J said...

The media blame-game for the spill has become somewhat interesting. The big liberal sites, like Huff-Po have yet to pin the spill on BP, though they are, er, were the owners of the rig--so "principals", right, in legalese.

The principals are always the responsible party, are they not, even if the shoddy work of one of their sub-contractors (like Halliburton in this case) was one of the reasons for the disaster.

BP contributes 1000s to big Demos, however--including ObamaCo, and Landrieu the LA sen-gal. Ergo...the HuffPo sort of centrist demos--or the bozo-crats of bay-area site New Worlds-- are reluctant to criticize BP, one of their corporate sugar daddies. For that matter, BP pushed for the Iraqi war from day one, along with Blair...

Anonymous said...

nothing quite like this (absolutely) FREE enterprise, eh?

all of this doesn't amount to a thimble-full of crude/oil

whose "responsible"?

wasn't Dick Cheney the CEO of Haliburton?

no, he's not responsible...

"we" the people are...

or was it that first damn sputnik that went up?

when was it? 1953! Heck, that was Eisenhower.. HE's the fucker responsible.. NOT ME!

no, never ME!


I could maybe throw a poem at the "problem"?

or let us beg the Langpos AND the Vispos AND the Kupos plug things up... again w them "transparent" factuals

I think I'll try this as "anonymous"
so's I ain't (....)

Ed Baker said...

here is where the problem is THE EQUIPMENT..."made in China"...

you know

my dad was a machinist ..

did you know that a bolt
made in the USA costs $3.00... same bolt made in China costs $0.06!

only problem... the Chinese bolt DOESN'T FIT
the American nut!

this FACT causes many many airplane and rocket and other
"accidents" to happen...


we can even get our shrimp and oysters and clams and crabs and carp from "fish farms" in China/Asia...CHEP!

just fry 'em up beyond all taste throw a hand-full of salt at them and...

heck we'll never notice the lead, mercury, pesticides and other pollutants in them...


these seafoods are easily grown in swimming pools

where they like our Maine Lobsters pretty much feed on their own waste products (and ours)

sure is a good thing that I have my poetry to fall back on...

I think I'll eat another

"Stone Girl" poem tonight for diner.. maybe this one?

Stone Girl
in her garden


Anonymous said...

vwah-lah! here is an oil pipe shut-off valve!


they had a 5000 foot string attached to the lever

so's a pull or a jerk would swing the thing shut...

some safety device, EH?
a valve like this is all that is required to pass an inspection...


what caused the explosion that's another

a lighting of a cigarette
while checking a gas valve?

this isn't "rocket science" OR "brain surgery" this is

stupid greedy people doing stupid greedy things

Anonymous said...

well the High Tech Upside-down funnel
didn't work

they forgot to consult with a physics grad student who could have told them the basics of
how gases crystallize under such conditions...

NOW they are gonna (try to) cap the ruptured/blown pipe

technically it is called

"Put a Cork In IT"! much like corking a bottle of wine or pressing a cap on a bottle of beer!

HECK this is serious ... who are the morons who are our'expert scientists'

I guess they are the recent "c" student graduates out of our Educational System (which is equal to none)

hell even with expert (Tali-ban) training in basic bomb making.. these grads can't "do it" right

we sure are LUCKY...

sometimes good luck
sometimes bad luck

I think we the people need to support more better our congress people so's they can install another Investigative Committee...

they can "Blame It On The BOSINOVA"!

Ed Baker said...

pee est..

heck today May 22 AND

(as I was joking then now

today our President has announced a "solution" "I just signed an executive order to form a COMMISSION to study why this has happened and to (etc)!

JEEZE BP next week is gonna throw mud, golf-balls and tires into the hole to plug it up so that they can cap the thin a mile down with

now "scientists" are saying that the oil will migrate to the Arctic and to Europe!

why don't "they" just drop a bomb on this! NUKE IT?

that should clear things up and get even with (...)