Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Offshore Drilling for Little Oil

The subject of offshore oil drilling has largely faded following the election, and we have heard mercifully little of the "drill, baby, drill" inanity. Nonetheless, the drilling moratoria of both the executive and legislative branches have been lifted, and interest in drilling is growing in Alaska, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, ...

As offshore oil was being given the green light back in July, Joe Romm at Gristmill wrote:

The oil companies already have access to some 34 billion barrels of offshore oil they haven't even developed yet, but ending the federal moratorium on offshore drilling would probably add only another 8 billion barrels (assuming California still blocks drilling off its coast). Who thinks adding under 100,000 barrels a day in supply sometime after 2020 -- some one-thousandth of total supply -- would be more than the proverbial drop in the ocean?
Some Alaskans oppose this drilling too, and some no doubt remember the soothing blandishments proffered by industry apologists that nary a drop would be spilled from the planned oil terminal in Prince William Sound. Apparently, Captain Hazelwood hadn't paid any attention to that any of that before skippering the Exxon Valdez onto a reef and drenching 11,000 square miles of ocean and coastline with 11 million gallons of oil.

(Lagniappe: Exxon, to its enduring discredit, fought the damage award with every barrel of its corporate being, even as it continues to set records for its quarterly earnings, engages in shameless greenwashing and sets the standard for underfunded pension plans. After 19 years, the fisherman may at last get some tiny fraction of the original $5B jury award.)

This week, drilling in the Beaufort Sea was stopped by the 9th Circuit Court, which found that the Minerals Management Service had not done an adequate job assessing impacts to wildlife and to the Inupiat Eskimos that depend on them. Shell Oil, whose plans have been (temporarily) thwarted will doubtless appeal, and may ultimately prevail. President-elect Obama has been less than consistent about his position on offshore drilling, and there are so many battles to fight I doubt that offshore drilling will be much slowed. Certainly there will not be another moratorium, and more environmental damage is nearly inevitable.

All of the wrangling misses the larger problem of climate change, and the folly of pursuing more oil in a manner so environmentally troublesome and which won't solve our energy needs anyway. This chart pretty much sums it up:

Takes years, costs lots, damages the environment, exacerbates climate change and produces very little oil. Hmm, why are we going forward on this turkey?
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