Oil Drilling: The Pursuit of Black Gold

fallenleafblackbeansOil and Offshore

Nov 8, 2013 (3 years and 8 months ago)


Oil Drilling: The Pursuit of Black Gold

Tyler Evans

, Erin Schnettler

, Emma Levin

Oil exploration in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge is a very important aspect of
STS. Future oil and gas developments, such as ANWR, rely heavily on science
and improved technology and many of the previous developments have had
substantial effects of society.

The debate on whether or not to drill for oil in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge
has been an ongoing social, economic and political controversy throughout the
past three decades. Much of the debate rests on the amount of economically
recoverable oil and the potential harm that oil exploration might have on the
dense natural wildlife within the region.


Proponents of drilling in ANWR argue:

Decrease our dependence on foreign oil

Decrease the price of domestic oil

Create jobs and help support the local Alaskan economy

Opponents claim:

Uncertainty over the amount of economically recoverable oil

According to a report conducted by the Energy Information Administration (EIA),
in March 12, 2001, the increased production from ANWR would only reduce the
net share of foreign oil used by the U.S. in 2020 from 62 percent to 60 percent.

Americans use roughly 7 billion barrels of oil per year and the USGS estimates
that there is only 7.7 billion barrels in ANWR.

Furthermore, the actual pumping from ANWR would last for at least 25 years, so
if you spread the 7.7 billion barrels of oil out over 25 or more years, it is very
unlikely that ANWR could provide more than 3 percent of the oil that American
consume each year

Potential damage to the environment and surrounding wildlife (oil spills, road
construction, pollution, etc..)

Temporary solution

Overall, the underlying issue is our Country’s unsustainable dependence on oil. It
is clear that increasing oil production will just delay the inevitable; eventually, we
are going to run out of oil and renewable resources such as wind, hydroelectric,
solar, and biomass will be our only option. Therefore, development in the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge is not necessary. The procedures required for oil
development would greatly impact the surrounding regions and would have
adverse effects on individual species, indigenous people, and the environment as
a whole.

Oceanic Oil Spills: Costly Mistakes

Major Oil Spills in History

The Life Cycle of an Oil Spill

term impacts

Chronic exposure to oil can cause health impacts to wildlife and human
populations such as endocrine disruption and cancer.

Two major trends to note:

Oceanic oil spills are decreasing in
frequency but increasing in scale

2. Each oil spill is unique (challenging
for regulation, response preparation
and prevention

Identifying the Source/Cause of the Spill

up techniques at this stage aim to
identify the source and stop the oil from
escaping it. For example, underwater robots
are being used at the DeepWater Horizon oil
rig to try to cap the leak or re
route it. The
environmental impacts at this stage are


Once oil is introduced into the ocean, it will
undergo a natural degradation process known as
weathering. Clean
up techniques are vary with
the different weathering steps. The overall
environmental impacts of oil within the oceanic
ecosystem include massive die
offs and
unhealthy long
term populations. The most
important steps include:


up techniques of oil slicks
include floating booms and fire.

2.Natural dispersion
: Critical stage in which wave
energy breaks apart the slick into droplets. Clean
up techniques include the addition of chemical
dispersants to accelerate the process.



Coastal Arrival or “Beaching”

A portion of the oil that is able to evade the
up techniques at sea is eventually
deposited on shore. The negative implications
of coastal arrival depend on whether the
coastline is rocky or marshy, exposed or
sheltered etc. Shoreline cleanup efforts have
proven ineffective. Typical recovery timelines
for rocky coastlines is three years and five
years for wetlands.

Home Message:
While the frequency of oil spills is decreasing
due to technological development and increased regulation, an
increasingly desperate oil industry will continue to employ riskier and
riskier oil drilling techniques that escalates the scale of inevitable future
oil spills.

Future Perspectives

Advancing technologies such as nanosponges
and bioremediation hold promise, however, the
stages of an oil spill will continue to diversify
and become more complicated, challenging
effective clean
up techniques.

Fig. 1: April 26
, 2010: The DeepWater Horizon oil drill
exploded 50 miles of the coast of Louisiana.

Fig 4&5: Coastal arrival of the
Exxon Valdez Oil spill in Alaska,

Fig 2&3: Diagram of oceanic oil weathering and an inflatable
oil boom

Fig 6: Close up of a nanosponge: a paper
thin, ultra
sponge for future oil spill clean up


In 2005, the United States manufactured 9 million barrels of crude oil
per day and imported 13.21 million barrels per day from other countries
(“How Oil Drilling Works”). Therefore, the United States relies heavily on
various forms of oil. However, the rate at which we are consuming oil
means that many of the oil reserves will be dried up within the decades.
Thus, scientists, geologists, and multi
national corporations are
searching for new and better ways to produce oil. This is pertinent to
STS because humans rely on oil for day
day activities and to be able
to continue consuming oil at an increasing rate means that new
technology is needed to produce more oil in addition to technology that
is less harmful to the environment. Ultimately, we need to look at our
past oil drilling techniques and the damage they have caused to create
new innovative more eco
friendly processes.

How is oil produced?

There is an easy seven
step process to ensure full
comprehension on the production of oil. First, oil needs to be
formed, which is done by folding, faulting, or pinching out.
Next, the “diggers” need to locate the oil to make sure that the
conditions are correct for the oil pipe. Third, all of the
preparations for the actual oil drilling need to be done. For
instance, they have to level the land to make sure the
machinery can drill properly. Next, the oilrig system begins its
work. There are five major areas of the rig: power system,
mechanical system, rotating system, casting, and circulation
system. Fifth, the oil drilling process takes place in five easy
steps: assemble the tool; make mud; lay pipe; shake, shake,
shake; finish the well. Sixth, the oil needs to be tested. There
are three types of tests: well logging, drill
stem testing, and
core samples. Finally, the oil is extracted.

Specific Oil Drilling Systems:

United Kingdom Offshore Oil

After the Second World War, coal was replaced by oil and oil
consumption exponentially increased.

In 1965, oil was discovered in the southern sector of the North Sea and
soon after, it was successfully producing commercial quantities.

Provisional Estimates of reserves from the two biggest barrels
demonstrated that enough oil could be recovered from the North Sea to
meet total UK demand of about 80 million tonnes per year for about five
years [Shell/Esso Brent Discover].

Major feature for future production is that there is a rapid decline in
production of oil from UK Continental Shelf developments.

Alberta Oil Sands

The major difference between conventional oil reserves and oil sands
deposits is the viscosity of the oil. In oil sand reserves, it is necessary to
reduce its viscosity to keep the oil flowing through the reservoir.

The process of extraction has two major drawbacks: the process
produces large volumes of sludge and bitumen recoveries from the oil
sand are low.

The future of sand oil extraction is the creation of alternative
technologies to increase the bitumen recovery and decrease the sludge.
The Canadian government as well as private companies are actively
pursuing these alternative technologies.

Future of Oil

Oil is a major facet in most powerful countries’ economies.
Therefore, governments coupled with private companies are
investing trillions of dollars into oil production and consumption.

For example, the development of the Brent Production (four
platforms) and its associated pipelines and terminals costs
over 3 billion Euros. This is approximately a cost comparable
to a moon shot.

The future of oil drilling relies on finding new unlikely fields for
production and continuing investments in current fields.

Oil prices will also affect the future of oil production and
consumption. The price of oil within the last century has
fluctuated. Thus, the search for alternative sources of fuel will be
invested in more, as oil prices remain high. Additionally, the
growing “green movement” coupled with the drying out of current
fields will aid in the search for alternative sources energy along
with alternative techniques for drilling.

Oil Technology

ANWR: A Heated Debate

Early 1900’s: First reports of surface oil on the North Slope of Alaska

1930’s: strong evidence that large oil deposits of oil did exist below
the Alaskan Surface

During World War II the United States Government declared the
North Slope and the oil on it, reserved for the military.

In the 1950’s scientists began to realize the biodiversity of the land
and proposed a plan to protect it.

By the 1960’s, President Eisenhower created an 8.9 million acre
reserve, which he named the Artic National Wildlife Range.

In 1980, congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands
Conservation Act (ANILCA), which doubled the range to almost 20
million acres.

The ANILCA renamed the land the Artic National Wildlife refuge and
designated eight million acres as wilderness.

However, the 1.5 million acre coastal plain that boarders the Beaufort
Sea between Prudhoe Bay and the Canadian boarder, was not part
of the designated wilderness.

The Coastal Plain region, known as section 1002, comprises
approximately 8 percent of the 20 million
acre ANWR, and is the
largest unexplored, potentially productive onshore basin in the United


Shogren, Elizabeth. "Arctic Refuge Damaged, Scientists Find."
Los Angeles Times

5 Mar. 2003. 1 May 2010


"To Drill or Not to Drill, That is the Question."
Arctic National Refuge
. 1 May 2010


Oil Production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge : the Technology & the Alaskan Oil

. Washington DC : Congress of the U.S., Office of Technology Assessment, Feb

Potential Oil Production From the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

Updated Assessment
. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Reserves and
Production Division. Energy Information Administration, 2000. 1 May 2010