Friday, May 14, 2010
Reaction to offshore oil spill can go overboard
Houston Business Journal – by John Culberson Special to Houston Business Journal
The oil spill in the Gulf threatens to become a serious breach of public trust in the environmental safety of offshore drilling, and it has already tragically claimed the lives of 11 hardworking Americans.
What is unquestionably more dangerous is the prospect of this incident being politicized. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida has already asked the President to impose a moratorium on all new offshore drilling.
Reactive, short-sighted proposals like Senator Nelson’s serve no purpose but to score quick political points, and ultimately increase our dependence on oil from the Middle East.
The failure of the rig’s preventive technology demands an explanation, and will surely and rightfully incite examinations of the risks and benefits of offshore development. But despite the conspicuousness of this particular spill, it is far from the norm.
As the Wall Street Journal has noted, the Department of the Interior’s most recent data indicates that between 1985 and 2001, seven billion barrels of oil were produced from offshore facilities with a spill rate of 0.001 percent.
Even more striking, the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council has reported that oil extraction accounts for only one percent of petroleum inputs in North American waters. Clearly, the Deepwater Horizon incident is a statistical anomaly.
The United States offshore energy industry follows to the world’s strictest standards for human safety and environmental protection. If we shut down our offshore drilling operations, our continuing demand for energy will force us to import even more oil and gas from countries with lax or sub par safety standards.
In other words, we wouldn’t be eliminating the environmental risks; we would be exporting and exacerbating them.
While the temptation to be swept away by popular sentiments surrounding the Gulf spill is great, we must also keep in mind the steep costs of walking away from our vast domestic energy supply.
The politics of offshore drilling have changed, but our high demand for energy has not. More than 30 percent of our nation’s oil and over 25 percent of our natural gas comes from offshore production, and government estimates put the amount of untouched natural gas deposits in the Gulf of Mexico at 20 trillion cubic feet, and over 10 times that onshore.
This immense supply within our reach necessitates thoughtful, economic consideration, especially given the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s projection that by 2030, American natural gas consumption will rise to 26.9 trillion cubic feet annually, and oil consumption will reach 27.6 million barrels a day.
If we prematurely shut off access to our rich resources in the Outer Continental Shelf, energy prices will rise, economic growth will slow and American consumers will suffer.
The loss of 11 lives and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf are heartbreaking and cannot be dismissed as collateral damage. This is a tragedy and will be remembered as such. But we must move forward with proper forethought, keeping both the nation’s and the Earth’s best interests in mind.
We do not have to choose one or the other. With the right adjustments and enforcement of existing safety standards, we can do a great service to future generations and pay our respects to the victims of this tragedy.