Friday, May 14, 2010

Offshore Oil is an Avoidable Tragedy

The catastrophic explosion in the Gulf gives us reason to re-evaluate offshore oil’s place in a 21st century energy economy. The explosion killed eleven workers and caused a massive oil spill that has shut down one of the most fertile fishing grounds in the US. The oil spewing from the well is hitting coastlines and is a serious threat to wildlife, marine habitats, livelihoods and human health.

Official estimates from the federal government and BP, which owns the oil lease the Deepwater Horizon was working, place the leak rate at some 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons). However other reports indicate that 70,000 barrels of oil a day may be gushing through the ruptured wellhead and it could take 90 days to stem the black tide. That translates to one Exxon Valdez spill every five days.

The leaking offshore oil well is located off Louisiana's coast, 5,000 feet under the ocean surface. The incident began when Swiss-based Transocean Ltd's Deepwater Horizon exploded and caught fire while finishing a well for BP. Ironically, Deepwater Horizon sank on Earth Day (April 22), two days after the initial explosion.

The underwater well continues to dump vast quantities of oil into the ocean and bad weather hampered early efforts to clean up the spill with controlled burning and dispersal agents. Oil now covers thousands of square miles in the Gulf of Mexico threatening fragile shorelines in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Florida.

Deepwater oil rig spills are not without precedent, in 1979 through 1980, off the coast of Mexico, 140 million gallons of crude oil were spilled into the ocean. However, the amount of oil flowing from the recent explosion of the Deepwater Horizon puts it on track to become the worst oil spill in history, surpassing the damage done by the Exxon Valdez tanker that spilled 11 million gallons of oil into the ecologically sensitive Prince William Sound in 1989.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency, President Obama said he will utilize every available resource at his disposal, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano promised an all-out response.

Obama made clear his disapproval of the "cozy relationship" betweeen federal regulators and oil companies. The President also voiced his contempt for the lack of responsibilty shown by the central players in this matter. "I did not appreciate what I consider to be a ridiculous spectacle during congressional hearings into this matter," he said.

Even with all the resources being devoted to manage the spill, the damage cannot be contained. The White House science policy adviser, John Holdren, recently warned that the Gulf oil spill leak could worsen. Recent events are leading many to question President Obama’s plans for a limited expansion of US offshore oil and gas drilling.

BP made more than $6 billion in the first three months of this year. Coincidentally, around the time the Deepwater Horizon was burning, some of the major oil companies were also reporting substantial earnings. Exxon Mobil posted a 38% increase in profits, and Occidental Petroleum saw their profit nearly triple. The explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and big oil’s profits are fueling growing resistance to offshore oil exploitation.

While Big oil may be posting record profits, the disaster in the Gulf is costing billions not including the costs to irreplaceable marine environments and eco-systems. This massive black stain is polluting the Gulf's waters, beaches, and wetlands. Wildlife is at risk as are the people living in Gulf Coast communities. Each day more oil pours into coastal waters threatening over 400 species of fish, birds and wildlife.

So far all efforts to contain the spill have failed including an effort to contain the leak with a 98-ton concrete-and-metal box structure known as a cofferdam or 'Top Hat'.

This uncapped underwater gusher is damaging the economy as well as the environment. The oil spill has already drained billions from BP's stock market value and billions more are being spent in management efforts.

These events persuasively demonstrate how offshore oil imperils ecosystems, destroys livelihoods and undermines the economy. Offshore oil is inconsistent with a 21st century economy, particularly in light of the fact that clean energy can provide more jobs, less pollution, and real energy independence.
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Related Posts

The Costs of Offshore Drilling
BP's Corporate Irresponsibility
Responsibility for the Costs of the Gulf Oil Spill
Obama Presidency and the Gulf Oil Spill
Managing the Massive Gulf Oil Spill
The End of Oil and the Next Energy Economy
Peak Oil
The Economic Calamity of Peak Oil
Reigning in Irresponsible Oil Giants Chevron and Exxon Mobil
The Business of Climate Change Deception
Planning a Future Without Oil
Drill Baby Drill
Koch Industries' Environmental Crimes
Koch Industries Financing Climate Denial
Koch Industries Destroys the Environment & Funds Climate Denial
Protecting the Planet from Corporate Influence
How to get Through to Climate Change Deniers
America's New Fuel Efficiency Standards

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