Within the last 5 days, we have watched an oil platform explosion result in a catastrophic oil spill which threatens to become the worst oil-related environmental disaster since the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound in 1989. While we are no doubt a nation that desperately needs energy independence, this disaster should certainly cause us to reconsider whether the benefits of ultradeepwater drilling.
Ultradeepwater drilling has become a relatively new method of petroleum recovery in the last two decades. While offshore drilling has been perfected for some time, ultradeepwater drilling is still in a very infant phase. Ultradeepwater drilling often involves the exploration for oil and gas deposits 20-50 miles offshore. These areas have largely been untested and hold the potential for many billions of barrels of oil and gas and could easily provide energy independence. The danger of ultradeepwater drilling is that it involves drilling to very deep depths (often several thousand feet). If a single pipe were to burst or leak, it is practically impossible to cap off the leak. Its one thing to get into scuba gear and go down 300-400 feet, but a depth of one mile or more could easily crush a human with ease. What we are seeing now is a worst case scenario; an oil slick that is the size of Rhode Island and, according to multiple news sites including CNN and MSNBC, growing at the rate of 210,000 gallons a day. This oil spill could engulf a very large portion of the U.S. Gulf Coast within a few days.
While I do understand we need energy independence, the costs that we face in this oil spill could easily outweigh the benefits, both short term and long term. Short term, the oil could easily coat millions of fish and sea creatures, causing damage to our food supply. The oil could also contaminate the water table, which can last years. In addition, the oil could collect on our nation’s beaches, resulting in an extremely expensive cleanup operation and severe damage to Florida’s tourism industry. In addition, the companies behind this spill could easily be bankrupted with multi-billion dollar lawsuits, causing all Americans to pay for this spill through government aid and insurance payouts.
I feel that we need to have a moratorium on ultradeepwater drilling to evaluate all wells and to see if it is a wise idea to continue this very risky method of oil exploration. We need to ask ourselves the tough questions and see if the potential damages (obviously, accidents can and do happen) and see if the benefits outweigh the costs. We may need to consider more costly methods of ultradeepwater drilling (i.e. drilling at the shore and using horizontal drilling to manuever around the water. If we can keep all the pipe underground, we may be able to avoid future spills which affect much more than one company’s bottomg line. We need to think long-term and not with a short-term cost focus, but rather evaluate and see if more money spent up front will save us from an environmental disaster in the long run. If it takes tax credits or incentives to encourage better preparation, then so be it. But allowing a large portion of our economy, food supply, and nature to be held hostage by one oil platform is unacceptable and wrong.