Gonsiorowski - Offshore Oil Drillingx

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Erik Gonsiorowski

January 30,
2011

Sustainability Debates

Offshore Drilling

1,
043

Words



Offshore drilling for oil has been a contentious issue for the latter

half

of the 20
th

century. As a
result of society’s increasing demand for oil, drilling for deposits moved beyond land. After a drill rig
blowout off the Santa Barbara, California coast in 1969, the negative consequences of offshore drilling
have been clear. Energy comp
anies have a great economic interest in offshore drilling, with oil
companies looking to increase profits while alternatives seek investment to meet growing energy
demands.
Nearby

communities’ interests are split, with economic profit from the oil industr
y coming
w
ith the increased risk of damage to local ecosystems and wildlife. At the center of the debate are the
issues of conservation and energy production, and whether or not the risks associated with offshore
drilling are acceptable.


In
Taking Sides
,

Stephen L. Baird supports offshore oil drilling, citing its necessity in maintaining
the current American standard of living. Allowing offshore oil drilling increases America’s ability to
produce oil, thus also decrease the country’s dependence on foreig
n oil and the economic fluctuation
that accompany that dependence.

Baird draws quotes from U.S. presidents, dating back to Richard
Nixon, stating their belief in the importance of energy independence. He also explains the diplomatic
ramifications of impo
rting oil and how the United States’ diplomacy has been weakened by its oil
interests.

Key to Baird’s argument is his defense of offshore drilling as a

safe means of oil production.
“…since 1975, 101,997 barrels spilled from among the 11.855 billion barr
els of American oil extracted
offshore. This is a 0.001 percent pollution rate.” He compares the man
-
made pollution to natural
pollution, “as 620,500 barrels of oil ooze organically from North America’s ocean floors each year.”
Although Baird’s piece wa
s written before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a more recent Wall Street
Journal opinion piece counter’s
newfound
criticism
s

of safety. The author explains that the severity of
the Deepwater Horizon spill was due to the depth at which the rig was drill
ing, as result of government
regulations pushing oil rigs farther from shore.

In shallower waters, the oil well could have been much
more easily contained.

He also explains the vested interest of oil companies in maintaining safe
practices. “The Exxon V
aldez dumped 260,000 barrels of oil, and Exxon spent $3.14 billion on cleanup.
Do the math, and Exxon spent nearly 600 times more on cleanup and litigation than what the oil was
worth at that time.”


Although Baird’s number
s

lose some value since they do n
ot account for the Deepwater Horizon
spill, he does illustrate that offshore oil drilling
has been consistently environmental friendly. The issue
in his argument is that the severity of particular incidents cannot be overlooked. When discussing
foreign d
ependence, Baird explains that it is an overblown issue. His statement that our foreign
dependence is acceptable because we import mainly from allies is short
-
sighted. The issue of energy
production is a long
-
term issue. The fact that Germany, America’s

enemy in World War II, is now one of
our strongest allies in Europe illustrates how drastically our foreign ties can change over time.


Mary Annette Rose offers the counter to Baird’s piece in
Taking Sides
,
focusing

on the great
environmental impact of of
fshore oil drilling. Although there is support for offshore drilling in the
American public, this represents short term thinking rather than an understanding of long term energy
Erik Gonsiorowski

January 30,
2011

Sustainability Debates

Offshore Drilling

1,
043

Words


policy. Rose’s biggest concern with offshore drilling is not necessarily oil

spilling into the ocean, but
other byproducts of the drilling process which damage the environment. She looks at produced water
and drilling fluids as examples of the harmful chemicals released into the ocean. In regards to produced
water, she explains
that the mixture was so dangerous to local ecosystems that “the EPA […] banned the
release of produced waters to inland and coastal waters”, but that “operations in U.S. waters may
legally discharge treated produced water directly into the ocean.” Rose co
unters the claim that oil
companies have an economic reason to environmentally ethical.
She notes the massive profits of oil
corporations allow them to pay fines for oversight. More importantly, the isolated nature of oil rigs
makes it difficult to monit
or violations. In a Baltimore Sun opinion piece, author Andy Green notes that
long term damage of offshore drilling. “The tourism and fishing industries on America’s coasts produce
$11.4 trillion in economic activity.” Offshore drilling pollution can ha
ve catastrophic effects on coastal
communities, as the Deepwater Horizon spill demonstrated. Green also explains that America has an oil
consumption problem, consuming 20 percent of all global oil production, while only holding 2 percent of
global oil res
erves. Offshore drilling only delays facing the problems related to America’s dependence
on oil for its energy production needs.


Rose paints a compelling picture of the effects of pollution related to offshore drilling, but her
argument lacks proper cont
ext. While she points to increases in toxicity in animals, she does

not

accurately explain the
resulting
human impact.
How localized are the effects of oil rig pollution? Does it
affect fishing zones? It is important to be able to weigh the effects of
pollution against the economic
benefits. If pollution affects wildlife for a one mile radius around a rig, versus a 100 mile radius, the
weight of the argument is drastically different.


After reading both sides on the issue of offshore drilling, I find I

am in support of allowing
drilling. Baird makes a compelling argument on the safety of offshore drilling. After the Deepwater
Horizon spill, it would be easy to say the offshore drilling is environmentally unsafe, but long term
trends suggest otherwise.

A look at history shows that other than the 1969 rig blowout in Santa
Barbara, there have been no major oil disasters relating to offshore drilling. Deepwater Horizon was an
isolated incident, whose extreme severity was related to complex circumstances.

Baird also offered a
more realistic path to energy independence. Both sides of the issue understand the need to invest in
alternative, renewable sources of energy. The fact that
U.S p
residents for the past quarter century have
sought energy independenc
e shows the difficulty associated with this goal.

Perfecting new sources of
energy will take time, and we should do what we can to alleviate uncertainty
in oil production until new
technology is ready.



Erik Gonsiorowski

January 30,
2011

Sustainability Debates

Offshore Drilling

1,
043

Words


Works Cited

Baird, Stephen L., “Offshore Oil Drilli
ng: Buying Energy Independence or Buying Time?” From
The
Technology Teacher

(
November 2008
).

Re
-
published in Thomas A. Easton,
Taking Sides: Clashing Views
on Environmental Issues,

13
th

Ed., Boston: McGraw
-
Hill, 2009, P. 134
-
139.


Green, Andy. "Is offshore drilling worth the risk?."
Second Opinion
. The Baltimore Sub, 31 Mar 2010.
Web. 29 Jan 2011.
<http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/2010/03/is_offshore_drilling_worth_the.html>.


Rose, Mary Annette, “The Environmental Impac
t of Offshore Oil Drilling” From
The Technology Teacher

(
February 2009
)
. Re
-
published in Thomas A. Easton,
Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Environmental
Issues,

13
th

Ed., Boston: McGraw
-
Hill, 2009, P. 134
-
139.


Review and Outlook

editorial writers
,

"Dril
ling in Deep Water ."
Wall Street Journal

May 4, 2010 Web. 30
Jan 2011. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704342604575222472358019534.html>.