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Why the Oil Spill Won't End Gulf Drilling

4 years ago
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ORLANDO, Florida -- Suppose the United States did decrease drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, or discontinue it altogether. It's a tempting idea, but the question arises. Then what? What would be our alternatives?

For a nation where oil consumption surged 32 percent between 1970 and 2008 and production declined 40 percent, offshore drilling in the gulf, along with Alaska, represents the new frontier. Some 30,000 to 40,000 rigs in the gulf are drilling deep and pumping oil that comprises more than a third of the nation's domestic supply, more than any other source. The technology employed to drill so deep and at such underwater depths is so cutting-edge it rivals that of space exploration, the industry says.

No one knows just how much oil is beneath the gulf. Forty years ago, the U.S. Geological Survey used seismic data to explore how much oil was there. Today's technology, through exploratory drilling, gives the United States a greater ability to determine how much really is there and where. Some say no matter how much is there, it is an unsustainable resource, but others say another Saudi Arabia could be in the gulf, said Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

"Offshore drilling will continue," said Samuel Thernstrom, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former member of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "The Obama administration's position on drilling has not fundamentally changed, that the president seems to still support expanded offshore drilling accompanied, of course, with more stringent protections for the environment."

The spill in the gulf, which began more than a month ago when a rig exploded and sank, killing 11, has inspired an important national conversation on our dependence on oil and our need for cleaner energy sources. President Barack Obama has banned all new deepwater wells for six months, and he also has established a bipartisan national commission to investigate what caused the spill and recommend ways to improve federal regulations on offshore drilling. But he has not retreated from offshore drilling altogether.

"Because it represents 30 percent of our oil production, the Gulf of Mexico can play an important part in securing our energy future," the president said last month during his weekly radio address. "But we can only pursue offshore oil drilling if we have assurances that a disaster like the BP oil spill will not happen again."

More than 246 million vehicles are on the road today, and the truth is we still are at least 30 years away from electric cars on a scale that would have an impact, said Ebinger, who has served as an energy policy adviser to more than 50 governments. Even replacing a few million cars with electric vehicles is a "long way from getting our dependence on petroleum in the transportation sector ended," he said.

Domestic drilling is important to our national security and economy, generating jobs and tax revenue that, among other things, can be used in environmental preservation projects, Thernstrom said. It also is safer environmentally. Research shows that tankers transporting oil are more prone to accidents and spills than rigs. U.S. safety and environmental standards also are better than in countries such as Nigeria or Venezuela. All this means domestic drilling is less likely to produce spills, he said.

"There is a future where America will use less fossil fuels, and I think there are government policies that can help move us in that direction," Thernstrom said. "But the technologies are not as developed as the environmentalists would like us to believe."

The BP spill is the worst in American history and threatens the environment, seafood and tourism industries, and more across the Gulf Coast. Here in Florida, a Moody's Investors Service report asserted the spill's impact could be worse than that of the global recession, because any damage to the beaches would depress tourism and property values, jeopardizing state and local credit ratings and causing higher borrowing costs.

Hundreds of dead birds already have washed ashore in Louisiana, notes Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida. Draper was among the leading opponents of a legislative measure in Florida opening state waters to drilling, which now appears dead. The spill also has killed a California drilling project backed by environmentalists. Meanwhile, Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida has announced he will call a special legislative session to discuss a constitutional amendment banning drilling in state waters.

In this environment, a candidate for statewide public office (Crist is running for the U.S. Senate) could probably do no less. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has backed away from a painstakingly forged compromise between environmentalists and the oil industry, and even pro-growth conservative Gov. Bob McDonnell acknowledges that the gulf oil spill has made Virginia's plans to lease offshore tracts more problematic -- even before President Obama issued a moratorium on new leasing. "It's clearly a setback," McDonnell acknowledged. "It's going to take some time to sort out what happened, make the technological and regulatory fixes."

But then, he believes, Virginia -- and the rest of the nation -- must get back up on the scary horse that is now symbolized by BP. He is not alone.

Even Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sens. Mary L. Landrieu and David Vitter don't want offshore drilling to end. This reflects the will of many of their constituents. Take Michael Ballay, manager of the Cypress Cove Marina and Resort in Venice, La., for example. Ballay expects to lose his entire summer's business to the spill, but he believes there is a bigger picture.

"Venice was built on oil," he said. "Ninety percent of the people down here make their living or have relatives who make their living off the oil rigs."
Filed Under: Environment, Energy, Oil Spill

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152 Comments

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mrnrebelpride

Why should the spill end drilling?? Why exactly? Why not enact tougher safety rules and regulations for the drilling industry instead of trying to criminalize the industry as a whole ? If this country banned drilling the first thing that would happen is that we would have to depend on those corrupt middle eastern countries for our oil needs and second of all the job loss would be great.

June 21 2010 at 5:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brian Lowry

This is a complete disaster and BP should be held accountable in the courts...

June 11 2010 at 12:18 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
knute9

The affects of this epic oil spin will impact the affected areas for at least 10 years. Presently BP is making payments to people who were put out of work because of this spill. Is BP making them sign waivers to future claims?

June 08 2010 at 7:59 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
DOYLE

Please understand that NO ONE wanted this accident. But they happen. I don't think anyone wants to give up the carpeting in their homes, or all of the plastics that we use including our clothes. Gasoline is the smallest of the crude oil products. We should continue to drill our OWN oil and gas. We have plenty of natural gas for energy. We are more dependent on oil that most of you realize. OIL is NOT a dirty word. Stop it and you stop the military. Bring the rigs closer to shore and not in the "deep" parts of the ocean where the envioromentalists have dictated that we go. There are over 4000 wells in the GULF without any mishaps. THINK

June 08 2010 at 1:55 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
T REXX

I would pay 6 dollars a gallon to make this all go away

June 08 2010 at 1:26 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Jack

We will not stop the drilling in the Gulf or any place else. Beside the ecomony in LA alone depends upon the oil industry. Closing down the source of oil, will shut all the other thing involved in the production of product from that oil. Million of jobs.
This accident was the result of a bunch of failures, from the regulators, the brass at BP, the men on the rig and so on. Each and everyone in some little way had a hand in this. There were enough regulation on the books to prevent this. the trouble is they were on the books, and in most case the people who check that the regulations are being followed only look at the book. Most case they don't get out on the rig, get oil and dirt on their hands. As long as the paper work is right they did their job. I have seen that happen in other things involving the goverment.
Yes we will be back drill in the Gulf and maybe learned some from this accident.

June 08 2010 at 11:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carole Ann

BCal1149 - Your information is incorrect. Please post a legimate site where you can prove this information.

June 08 2010 at 11:19 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
rickets99

"Thernstrom said. "But the technologies are not as developed as the environmentalists would like us to believe." THAT'S WHERE YOU ARE WRONG. YES, THE TECHNOLOGY IS HERE ALREADY. WE DON'T NEED TO CONSUME OIL/GAS NEARLY AT THIS LEVEL. BUY A HYBRID! PRIUS OR WHATEVER! THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. IT CAN CUT YOUR FUEL CONSUMPTION IN HALF OR MORE IMMEDIATELY. THE ELECTRIC CARS AND ELECTRIC HYBRIDS ARE COMING OUT THIS FALL. YOU CAN CUT YOUR GAS CONSUMPTION DOWN TO ZERO! THE FUTURE IS ALREADY HERE.

June 08 2010 at 11:03 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rickets99's comment
mcgowann

The point that Thernstrom was trying to make is that solar, wind and geothermal are not yet affordable for the average American. You are also ignoring the other products made with oil. Asphalt for roads. Tar for roofs. Plastics. Synthetic fabrics. We don't have electric 18 wheelers and farm equipment. A lot of fuel is used in the production and delivery of food. Delivery of all products. Air travel requires jet fuel. The electricity to recharge the batteries on hybrid autos requires fossil fuels. The same people who are pushing hybrid autos are against nuclear power. That's the real cure for the use of fossil fuels being used to produce electricity.

If everyone decided to buy a hybrid auto this year, in the real world (as opposed to your idealized fantasy world) there would be no way that they could make enough to replace more than 250 million vehicles in the US this year. At the rate hybrids are being built, it would take about 30 years to do so.

June 08 2010 at 3:01 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
JUDY

It seems to me that we,the United States, are not the only country that drills in the Gulf. So how do we stop other countries? An unfortunate accident happened and everyone wants to "jump ship". We need the oil. Now the big question is, How is Obama, who suspended drilling goint to pay for the unemployment that is going to be needed????

June 08 2010 at 11:02 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
bashamrobin

Its all about GREED! No matter how much you may think all of this is needed there is always an option for something cleaner and safer, but because we have grown to be lazy, I want it now people, no one wants to take the time to think or even care about it. Soak yourself in oil and try to breath then maybe your ideas would change your thinking.

June 08 2010 at 10:52 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

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