Logic of Oil Drilling
Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
May 22, 2010
In 1979, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant had a partial core meltdown that resulted in a radiation leak. The leak combined with the movie The China Syndrome about an almost catastrophic nuclear accident hindered the nuclear power industry for almost thirty years as it took 28 years to approve construction of a new nuclear power plant.
Today, many believe that the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the oil industry’s Three Mile Island and hope that it will prevent further drilling off the continental shelf. And it is obvious that the BP oil spill is a disaster and will have a harmful environmental impact on the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding areas.
However, the disaster is the exception and not the rule. Off shore drilling, overall, remains safe and environmentally sound and needs to be part of a broader U.S. energy policy.
According to a 2003 National Academy of Sciences report, less than .001% of oil produced off U.S. waters has spilled over the last 20 years from oil rigs. Globally, the UN’s Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection finds that .4% of oil spillage into oceans come from exploration and production.
A closer look of Department of Interior reports finds 193 spills of 50 barrels or more of oil, natural gas, or production fluids between 1996 and 2009. These are very minor spills of a couple hundred barrels of fluids or less total compared to the low estimate of 5,000 barrels per day from the BP spill.
This data shows an average of almost 14 spills a year with a high of 49 and a low of 3. The numbers of spills are actually inflated for several years because hurricanes destroyed inventories on oil rigs – losses not due to production. Moreover, 99.7% of all oil rigs had no oil spills in 2009.
No matter how you look at the data, that’s a pretty good record.
The key is to learn from this disaster to prevent it from happening again. Remember that after the Exxon Valdez spill, we did not ban oil tankers but started building double hulled tankers. Likewise, we need to investigate the causes and adopt procedures to prevent future disasters.
Finding solutions is important because we get 30.2% of oil and 11.4% of natural gas from offshore drilling. To stop or delay drilling means that we have to buy more oil from the Persian Gulf states who, in turn, use that money to try to kill us or nations like Russia and Venezuela that actively work against our interests. And remember that global demand for oil is increasing as two billion Chinese and Indians begin to desire to live like Americans.
Let’s not be mistaken. We must invest in and use more renewable energy. But regardless of the technological advances, we also need more oil. Off shore drilling is safe and the potential supplies of oil and natural gas are vast. Let’s let reason trump ideology and make the right decision.
This article orginally appeared in the May 21 edition of the Jackson Sun