Offshore drilling is often heralded as one of the dirtiest forms of oil extraction. The Concept of pumping out oil from the world’s few remaining untouched natural ecosystems seems disturbing to many. With the recent Deepwater Horizon disaster many have come to view offshore drilling negatively and with disgust. The pictures of cute Gulf Coast animals smothered in black goopy oil was simply too much for the public to handle and gave the impression that nothing good can come out of such tragic possibilities. Yet there is another side to this energy story. While offshore drilling certainly isn’t the most environmentally friendly solution for the world’s energy needs, the argument can be made that it’s the lesser of two evils. With global energy demand on the rise, the few remaining easily accessible oil reserves are being diminished at record time. With few options left, many developing countries are turning to coal as a cheaper more affordable source of energy. Countries like China and India are leading the coal charge at alarming rates. Because of oil’s prohibitively expensive price, countries like these turn to coal to power their exponentially growing cities. This global trend towards coal is causing massive environmental damage in the areas it’s used the most. The effects can easily be seen in places like Linfen, China where the pollution is so bad the city’s been ranked the most polluted city in the world for years. Without a drastic increase in offshore drilling, this trend towards coal will likely continue. While oil certainly isn’t the cleanest energy source, it’s also not the worse. With energy demands as high as they are, limiting offshore drilling will likely only hurt the environment. Offshore drilling is surprisingly one of the safest forms of extraction. Its environmental impact is minimal compared to other more popular methods like oil sands. Less offshore drilling will likely result in an increase in oil sands extraction to compensate for the energy it used to create. The Deepwater Horizon Disaster highlights the worse that can happen from offshore drilling while not shining light on its benefits. Many environmental advocates will point out that offshore drilling is only a temporary solution to and they’d be right but given the circumstances the world currently faces, it acts as one of the cleanest viable solutions out there. In a situation like this, the best path forward will likely sound contradictory to what most environmentalists believe: that in order to save the environment, offshore drilling for oil should increase.
While offshore drilling has the potential to cause great harm to the environment, as demonstrated through the Deepwater Horizon Disaster, the alternatives are much worse. Developing countries like China and India resort to coal as their main fuel source due to its inexpensive cost per kilowatt compared to that of oil. The effects of coal on the local environment are immediate. A perfect example comes from the city of Linfen, one of China’s largest coal producing centers. Prior to Linfen’s transformation into the most polluted location in the world, it was known as the “Flower Town” for its rich agriculture and pristine natural beauty (Global Times). The residents of Linfen lived healthy lives and were not phased by the pollution that plagues the city today. Linfen’s fall from grace was a direct result of China’s overall need for cheap energy. Linfen was uniquely situated over massive reserves of coal and other natural resources that could be easily exploited. As a result, the Chinese government transformed Linfen from a pristine untouched ecosystem into the coal burning energy producer that it is today. Things have gotten so bad in Linfen due to the pollution that “your laundry can turn black if you hang it outside for even a few minutes” (OPishPosh 1). While it would be optimistic to believe that this is an isolated incident in the foothills of China, it simply isn’t true. According to the IEA, “China and India will lead the growth in coal consumption over the next five years” followed by other less prominent countries like Malaysia and Indonesia (IEA 1). While horrible for the environment, coal will continue to be cheap enough to keep these countries growing and incentivize the governments not the change. In a study done by Andrew Weaver, professor at the University of Victoria, he found that “coal presents a climate challenge of 1500x greater than that presented by the oil sands”(Weaver 1). Since oil sands are far more damaging to the environment than offshore drilling, can you imagine the consequences if coal is phased in as the world’s primary source of energy. This is actually expected to happen according to IEA who estimates that “coal will come close to surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source” by 2017. If the U.S limits the expansion of offshore drilling, it will drive global fuel prices higher causing this trend to continue. The U.S has the potential to lower the cost of oil allowing poorer countries to use it instead of coal, but only if it increases oil supply. While the U.S is on a path towards cleaner energy, it shouldn’t forget that it’s policies vastly affect the actions of other developing countries. The U.S’ strides towards a cleaner economy is likely being negated by other less regulated countries being forced to resort to coal due to rising fuel prices. The US’ role as an energy exporter cannot be understated, and it’s impact on the rest of the world is immediate.
The energy crisis the world is currently facing will not go away in the near future. According to Kelemen, “global energy consumption will continue to grow exponentially” for the next several decades (Kelemen 1). Meanwhile the cost of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power will continue to be unobtainably high for most 3rd world countries. Even with an “annual [growth] rate exceeding 24 percent for more than a decade” renewable energy still accounts for only a small percentage of overall energy produced (Kelemen 1). Simply put, the world will need enormously more energy than it’s currently producing and renewable sources cannot viably create that energy. Alternatives such as natural gas and nuclear power have been explored but for the most part, coal and oil have filled the energy void. Without an increase in offshore drilling, energy demands will outpace the world’s ability to create it even further and they will likely resort to more coal.
The oil sand’s fields of Alberta, Canada: by One Blue Marble
While many environmental groups would be appalled at the idea of expanding offshore drilling to protect the environment, they need to consider the alternatives if they get what they want. Oil companies will not take a hit on their revenues for the sake of the environment. Despite what idealists want to believe, oil corporations always put their bottom line before environmental responsibilities. Examples like this can be seen time and time again in 3rd world countries like Nigeria and Mexico. Companies like BP and Dutch Shell have no problems with focusing all their operations towards oil sands (the worse possible form of oil extraction) for the sake of profits. BP clearly demonstrated this when they focused a major part of their operations towards the oil sands of Alberta, Canada while selling off their other assets to pay for the Gulf Coast oil spill liabilities. They described all of this oddly enough on their environmentally green themed website with flowers and their supposed environmental strides. Companies such as these will not sit quietly as environmental groups encourage environmental regulation and hurt their bottom line. They will simply move towards more profitable ventures, most of which are worse than offshore drilling itself.
While offshore drilling does result in oil leaking into the ocean, its extent is grossly overstated. Up until the Deepwater Horizon disaster, offshore drilling rigs actually had a very good reputation for containing and limiting the amount of oil that got introduced into the environment. In a study done by the National Academy of Science, they concluded that 68% of all oil spilled in U.S waters was a result of natural seepage. This means that a majority of the oil in U.S waters right now is not the result of offshore oil rigs, but of cracks in the earth leaking out oil naturally from undisturbed oil wells. Another 32% came from consumer activity such as boating and fishing. Only 1% of all oil in U.S waters was a result of offshore drilling. The historic record of offshore drilling for oil extraction has actually been very good.
“Since 1975 offshore drilling has had a 99.999 percent safety record” and very few accidents proportional to its scale (Horton 1). With very few barrels of oil ever spilling into the ocean, offshore drillings proves to be one of the cleanest forms of oil extraction. While the use of oil certainly isn’t good for the environment, the case can easily be made that it’s one of the few viable energy sources that can take the place of coal until a better renewable solution is made.
Ironically enough, oil companies (or energy companies in general) tend to be the leaders in renewable energy research. While polluting the environment, they also serve a duel role in finding ways to save it. They acknowledge the growing consumer trend favoring renewable energy and are finding ways to satisfy that desire. When regulation hurts oil company’s bottom lines, it leads them to making cuts. They need to make sure they sustain their profit margins somehow, and that’s often through cuts in programs they view as less important. This unfortunately is often their renewable energy research. With that said cutting into oil companies bottom line technically hurts environmental research and the potential for new discoveries that could change the energy industry all together.
Economically, offshore drilling has numerous benefits nationally and locally in terms of increased revenues, oil price stability, and lower consumer goods prices. In a study done by Energy Economics evaluating the costs and befits of expanded offshore drilling, they concluded that “the benefits of producing offshore oil greatly outweigh the costs.”(Hahn 1). This evaluation is based on several factors such as the ones previously mentioned. His analysis also took into account the damage to the environment and noted that even “at the highest social cost of carbon at $321 per ton…the total benefits of producing offshore oil are still positive.”(Hahn 1). Essentially what he’s saying is that even under the worse circumstances, offshore oil expansion is a profitable venture for society. The $321 per ton accounts for the costs it would take to remedy the worst possible environmental damage imaginable. While many should caution numerically tagging a cost onto the environment, a compelling argument can be made that offshore drilling really isn’t as bad as it seems. The risks to the environment are minimal compared to the benefits to society that it could bring.
The media stigmatized offshore drilling with the Deepwater Horizon disaster when it barraged the public with constant visuals of dying sea creatures and unswimmable beaches. By and large support for offshore drilling previous to the disaster was actually very strong. Republicans and Democrats on both sides bipartisanly agreed on expanding offshore drilling. The president himself highlighted offshore drilling as a possible source to America’s energy independence goal. After the disaster however, all this changed. The images of the Gulf ridden with sludgy oil were too much for the public to handle and they shunned the idea like the plague. Yet even after all 210 million gallons of oil was spilled into the Gulf, scientists have been noted saying that “the natural recovery is far greater than what anybody hoped” and that “the fears…that there would be a catastrophic collapse of the ecosystem in the Gulf never materialized” (Morris 1). The Gulf Coast’s resilience to the oil spill is a clear representation of its ability to survive the worse humanity has to throw at it. While it certainly shouldn’t be taken for granted, the Gulf’s natural ability to survive paired with stricter regulation, should almost assure that the Gulf’s ecosystem never faces an actual collapse.
68% of people support offshore drilling: by Jim Tynen
Although controversial in the current times, public support is growing for the expansion of offshore drilling even after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Offshore drilling’s benefits cannot be ignored and people are beginning to take notice. Even the President, who imposed a moratorium on offshore drilling after the disaster, reneged on that decision after recognizing it’s potential for the American economy. Though it’s definitely not an ideal source of energy, the alternatives are much worse. By increasing offshore oil production, America can lessen its dependence on dirtier forms of energy such as coal while also bolstering its economy and that of other nations. The increased oil supply in the global markets will also bring down the price of oil increasing its viability as an energy source over coal for 3rd world countries. While certainly not the clean solution most be envision for America’s future, oil stands to be the best alternative the country’s got at this current time. It truly is, in a sense, the lesser of two environmental evils.
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