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BP Oil Spill Essays

For the last century finding a cheap supply of a sustainable energy source has been one of the major policies of the United States. Since the later stages of the industrial revolution and the first gasoline powered car were invented there has been an insatiable demand for petroleum. Oil well drilling first began onshore and then eventually led to shallow water drilling and finally deep water drilling as the technology evolved. Over the last twenty five years there have been major technology advancements which enabled oil companies to go further out and drill deeper in the ocean.
Along with this advancement came several environmental issues. With the huge size of the oil platforms and with the amount of oil produced each day, the impact of a leak or explosion would be huge if not contained in time. Over the years different governmental agencies have put in place many regulations and policies to make sure that the right measures are taken when building and operating an oil platform. As a result of the recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (British Petroleum Horizon) many questions have been raised.
Should the current deep water oil well drilling policies regulations and policies be revised? In 1887 H. L Williams drilled the first shallow water offshore well. The drill was placed on a wooden barge extending 300 feet into the continental shelf off Summerland, California. At first wells were only limited to shallow water drilling but in 1940 the emergence of free standing and floating wells enabled rigs to move further out into deeper water. By 1949 there were eleven oil producing fields and approximately 49 wells producing oil in the Gulf of Mexico. By the 1950s’ the United State government began responding to increased concerns regarding offshore jurisdictions, environmental impacts of offshore activities, economic factors and safety(Mastrangelo 3)” This led to legislative and regulatory issues that were later put in place to create a “reliable, safe energy supply with minimal environmental impacts and fair price to all parties. (Mastrangelo 3)” Since the expansion of drilling and the invention of new technology, the debate about leasing off shore lands for the exploration started.
The first court case was in 1947, United States v. California Coast, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government owned the land and undersea resources for the first three nautical miles of the California coast (United States v. California, 332 U. S. 19 (1947)). But later in 1953 Congress reversed the decision with the Submerged Land Acts of 1953 which gave the state title to the first three nautical miles. Also in 1953 the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act allowed the government to grant leases for mineral development in the offshore areas beyond territory controlled by the states.
These leases are put out to bid every 5 years and the next time to renew will be June 30, 2012( Mastrangelo 4). Every 5 years when a new lease is being awarded, which is part of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 the Mineral Management Service (MMS) requires an Environment Impact Statement (EIS)(Mastrangelo 4). For the past 28 years funds needed for leasing Outer Continental Shelf (OSC) areas have not been provided to the MMS. Therefore they cannot lease undersea resources to a company.
The government has proposed this moratorium to prevent drilling in certain areas that they believe are sensitive and could cause economic or environmental damage. The first OCS moratoriums imposed in 1982 covered 736,000 acres off the California coast. From 1982 to 1992 Congress imposed a moratorium on six other areas through the Interior Appropriations Bill. In 1990 President Bush issued a “Presidential Directive that enacted a blanket moratorium until 2000 on all unleashed areas offshore Northern and Central California, Southern California except 87 tracts, Washington, Oregon, the North Atlantic coast and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. Mastrangelo 5). ” In 1998 President Clinton extended the moratorium through 2012.
The issue of preventing MMS leasing areas has sparked a lot of controversy over the years. One side of the controversy argues that the United States should open up all the areas that are restricting oil and natural gas production, in order to meet the future energy needs of the United States and to reduce the dependency on foreign oil. The other side states that the United States should focus on “protecting the oceans and coastal environment from further pollution or avoiding potential negative consequences on fishing or tourism. Mastrangelo 6)” Deep water offshore drilling produces about 34% of the world crude oil and about 25% of the world’s natural gas (Black, Lybeck). Of all the locations deep water offshore oil well drilling is taking place, the Gulf of Mexico is the most explored, and developed. Today there are about 4,000 active platforms servicing 35,000 wells, and 29,000 miles of pipeline (Black, Lybeck). The Gulf of Mexico’s oil production contributes approximately one-third of the oil and gas demand in the United States. This shows how important oil and gas production from the Gulf of Mexico is for the United States.
The U. S. currently cannot support its insatiable demand for hydrocarbons from its own resources, which is why they import such a great quantity of oil from around the world that has a significant impact on the countries trade imbalance. As a result of this high demand for oil, the oil industry is constantly developing new technologies to extract hydrocarbons from deeper and deeper areas around the world as is happening now around Brazil. Over the years there have been several major disasters for example the Gulf War Oil Spill which leaked 4 million barrels of oil (Gardner).
The first recorded spill was on December 15, 1976, when the Argo Merchant ran aground 29 miles southeast of Nantucket Island after being stranded for 6 days the vessel broke spilling 7. 7 million gallons of oil. The most current spill is British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico which is estimated to have spilled approximately 4. 9 million barrels of oil. The biggest oil disaster ever in history. The cause of this disaster is still under investigation though is believed to have been caused by several different factors.
The first criticism is that British Petroleum cut corners in drilling and safety in order to reduce the costs with the well. They did this so it could increase its profitability, making the equipment drill faster and deeper without proper checks. Second, the failure of the blowout preventer could have also caused the spill. There are also numerous questions being asked on whether proper maintenance was performed by Transocean, the owner of the rig. This major disaster sparked the controversy in the current policies for offshore drilling which led to the temporary moratorium on deep water drilling in the United States.
After this major disaster President Obama put a temporary moratorium on any deep water offshore oil well drilling which is due to end in November 2010. It is ironic that the Deepwater Horizon disaster took place less than one month after President Obama announced a new offshore drilling policy on Wednesday, March 23, 2010. The Obama March 23rd policy would open vast areas of water along the Atlantic Coast, the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Northern Coast of Alaska to deep water oil drilling for the first time (Johnson).
This same policy was supposed to over turn the moratoria that had been in place for many years and updated by President Clinton in 1998. In addition this policy restored a ban on drilling in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Although Obama’s idea of clean energy resources are his main priority he still believes that it is necessary to continue deep water offshore oil drilling. He believes that it would help reduce foreign dependence on oil and create jobs while the industry looks to develop other sustainable sources of energy. On the other hand many environmental groups believe differently.
They say that this new policy is “unnecessary” and “has no redeeming value (Winerman). ” To certain groups Obama’s idea of moving forward to cleaner energy is not happening. Opening up the potential to drill more on our coast line will not help lower price because no matter how much oil we can produce it is still not comparable to the amount we use each day. Drilling will just cost more money and possibly jeopardize beaches, marine life and coastal tourist economy (Winerman). The two sides of this argument have different ides of what they want to happen.
One side of the controversy believes that the United States should open up all the areas that are restricting oil and natural gas production, in order to meet the future energy needs of the United States and to reduce the dependency on foreign oil. The other side believes that the United States should focus on protecting the oceans and coastal environment from further pollution or potential negative consequences and should develop an energy policy focusing on alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. This brings us to the question on whether the current deep water drilling policies and regulations be revised?
The pro side feels the current regulations should be refined to encourage offshore exploration and development to reduce the United States dependence on foreign oil and more specifically Middle Eastern oil. Their first reason is that opening more drilling locations would allow the country to develop and produce more oil which will bring down the price of oil because it is more widely available (basic supply and demand). If the government granted exploration leases in certain areas where moratoriums currently exist, it would have a profound impact on potential future price increases.
The more place the United States the more oil it would produce there for lowering the price of oil. If congress were to continue to lift moratoriums placed then the price could continue to fall (Sieff). By having more production resources to fall back on when the prices of oil starts to rise it will act as a lid to prevent them from skyrocketing. It will not solve the energy crisis or help us become independent from foreign oil but it will give the country more choices. Many on this side believe that the United States new energy policy should include off shore drilling.
The United States’ cannot change to renewable energy overnight as the technology is not yet there and the insatiable demand cannot be satisfied from alternatives at the current time. There would have to be a slow transition, because oil is needed throughout the process of changing. One of the major reasons that people are against deep water offshore drilling is that it can really damage the environment. But many who are pro deep water offshore drilling has found counter arguments. The first being that the new technology of the deep sea platform is the best it has ever been, providing companied adhere to proper safety standards.
Over the last several years they have developed cleaner ways to extract and burn off the gasses produced while drilling instead of just flaring, which is used to eliminate waste gas. This has created one of the safer environments to work in, in many years (Murdock). With the new technology now available to deep water oil drilling companies they now have the ability to explore about 30,000 acres of surface land by only drilling one well(Sitherwood). This reduces the number of wells that have to be drilled which in turn reduces the potential negative impact on the environment and wildlife around them.
In addition, supporters are adamant that if deep water offshore drilling is no longer allowed then the United States would have to rely more and more on foreign oil. Over the years all administrations in the United States have tried to reduce the countries dependence on foreign oil. Also by relying on foreign oil one ends up being exposed to the huge transportation risk as the oil needs to be transported by the supper tankers. Throughout the years of deep water oil well drilling there has been more disasters caused by tankers than by oil rigs.
If they rely solemnly on international oil it is causing a greater risk for more disasters along with the pollution that the tankers produce (The Washington Post). Many on the side that believe deep water offshore drilling needs to be more regulated also believe that that amount of oil produced does not mitigate the potential harm it is causing to the environment. Right now only a small percentage of the coast is being explored. With the limited area now being explored and current production levels imagine how much more could be produced if more areas were open to exploration.
The United States consumes nearly one-fourth of the world’s oil but only produces about 10%. In 2006, Chevron proved that oil could be produced from a geological area about 175 miles from Louisiana that’s estimated to hold about 3-15 million barrels of oil. “By most estimates, at least 18 billion barrels of oil can be produced from areas that are off-limits, on top of 68 billion barrels in areas where drilling is allowed. The 18 billion barrels would be enough to fuel the country for 2? years” (Welch and Wolf).
With the ability to explore more areas around the coast of the United States and with modern technology the ability to drill deeper the United States would be able to become more dependent on its own oil then that of other countries (Hemingway). One of the most widely known promoters for offshore deep water drilling is former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin. She believes that the United States should continue to drill for offshore oil but when incidents like the BP Horizon spill take place they should be held accountable for their actions. President Obama may not seem like he agrees on many issues with her but he oes believe that the drilling should move onward in a limited way. On May 14 2010 Obama said the following supporting the side to expand limited off shore drilling, “Domestic oil drilling continues to be one part of an overall energy strategy that now includes more clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency than at any other time in our history,” he said. “But it’s absolutely essential that, going forward, we put in place every necessary safeguard and protection so that a tragedy like this oil spill does not happen again”(Khan). Many leftwing environmentalists and Democrats opposed the opening of more deep water offshore drilling areas.
Opponents argue that the current policies and moratoriums are not strict enough. Some believe that deep water offshore drilling should be completely banded. They believe that all the drilling that is taking place in The United States will not lower the price of oil or have any positive impact on the country. They say that it affects the price of gasoline very little. The difference between opening more areas to deep water offshore drilling will not be seen until 2020 as there is a tremendous lag from when one starts to acquire the acreage to drill to actually getting production.
Throughout this time the rigs will just be producing more pollution and a greater chance for another disaster. Robert Kaufman, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Boston University said, “ There’s nothing on the supply side that we can really do to disrupt OPEC’s ability to influence price” (Wagnsness). Environmentalists say that greater conservation is more important than offshore drilling. They believe that making off shore drilling more available in the United States is only a quick fix.
In the long run the pollution caused by all the new oil rigs will damage our ecosystem for such a small increase in production of oil. They believe that the United States will never be able to support it self only using its own oil supplies even if they open up all areas. Conservationists believe in the three D’s, drilling, drain and disaster. While drills are drilling for oil they are devastating the area around them. No matter how new the technology is and how safe the rigs are there is always room for error. One slight mistake could lead in to a disaster.
The operations that take place on oil rigs each day continue to have small leaks. Government records show that thousands of barrels of oil, fuel and chemicals continue to flow in to federal waters each year. “This is not a zero-risk proposition,” said John Rogers Smith, an associate professor of petroleum engineering at Louisiana State University. Even thought the drilling industry is up to date with all technology and safety issues, they are still having numerous problems dealing with natural disasters like hurricanes.
Seven of the last thirteen larger spills have been caused by hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. During the storms of Katrina and Rita about nine million gallons of oil were spilled into the Gulf (Ivanovich and Hays). A large amount toxic chemicals are released into the ocean during drilling. Sometimes the chemicals are found on the surface of the water and are burnt. The burning causes CO2 which is toxic to the environment. Another concern for the environmentalists is that the noise from the drill can also cause discomfort to many sea creatures especially whales (Wangsness).
The transportation of oil in the large super tankers can also cause large disasters which is why they have implemented stricter policies to prevent these disasters from happening. All new tankers are required to have the double hulls which help in the event a tanker runs aground. Large ships transporting oil cause a lot of pollution itself and occasionally run a ground causing large spills. Pipelines running along the seabed from oil rigs to shore can also leak and can go undetected for a short period of time.
Theses leaks can cause damage to the ocean as well as the coast lines. A question that many environmentalists ask is does the off shore drilling significantly contribute to the production of oil and help reduce the United States reliance on foreign oil. Many believe that it does not. Many oil companies believe that there is much untapped oil in the areas that are restricted by the government. Environmentalists believe that if the oil companies are allowed to start drilling and do not find the projected oil they will be hurting the environment for no reason at all.
Many oil companies have many areas to drill on shore but choose to instead to drill offshore in the hope of finding larger reserves. Opponents want oil companies to use their resources on land first before exploring offshore where the potential for an accident is higher and the ability to clean an oil spill is much more difficult. Overall, environmentalists believe that the negatives affects of deep sea offshore drilling outweigh the positive effects and that is why they believe that it should be banned.
The position that advocates wanting stricter policies for deep water offshore drilling seem to value two things -the earth and human life. Since they want all sea creatures and humans to be safe from oil spills it is clear they value human well being. They also want the earth to be a clean place to live. With having less deep water offshore drilling platforms it will create less pollution and therefore be better for the earth. If more deep water offshore drilling platforms take place there is a higher chance for an oil spill and disaster. The value of caution is one that this side believe in greatly.
If more deep sea offshore drilling platforms are built it will give a high chance for oil spills. If there are less deep sea offshore drilling platforms it lowers the chance of having a spill and therefore it is protecting the environment. On the other hand the side that wants looser policies for deepwater offshore drilling values the right of freedom. The United States government gave the choice for oil companies to drill in a certain area so they should have the right to do so. But closely related with this value, is the value of responsibility.
For example when an oil spill takes place like the BP Horizon it is the duty of the company to take full responsibility, both financially and technically and clean up the spill with the assistance of the government where possible. In the case of the BP Horizon disaster the United States government actually prevented skimmers from other countries being utilized, under the guideline of the Jones Act which had a significant impact on the disaster. The side wanting stricter deep water offshore drilling policies gives some very strong arguments to support their claim.
Their argument on the oil destroying sea creatures and their habitats along with the environment around them is a very strong argument because it deals with peoples values. Also their argument that it is polluting the earth affects everyone because it is making it an unsafe environment for everyone. The one weakness this side presents is that they do not present an alternative idea to replace oil. If the United States does not have an immediate substitute it would not be able to function as oil is so widely used.
On the other side were proponents want fewer regulations, their arguments are very strong too. Their main argument is that oil is the one of the most needed commodities on earth and therefore has to be continually produced to meet its demand. Without production of oil we would have to come up with an alternative source that could meet the demand for oil. They also make a strong argument saying that the United States is depending on a larger portion of its energy needs by relying on foreign oil too much and it needs to be more independent by drilling in more deep water offshore locations.
Their one weak argument they give is to do with the safely of the wells. No matter how technologically advanced the wells are and how many precautions they take there is always the chance of a disaster happening. Having reviewed a number of the issues surrounding deep water offshore drilling in the Gulf and area surrounding the United States, numerous questions have been raised on whether the government should or should not revise the existing policies and procedures.
Based on the research and analysis completed, it is quite evident changes are needed to improve the safety and methods to protect the environment yet the government needs to allow further exploration and drilling in waters surrounding the United States to help and reduce the countries reliance on foreign oil and not to impose such harsh procedure to make it prohibitive to operate economically. The area which is currently open to drilling in the gulf is very large and much of the areas with open leases are not being actively explored.
By actively soliciting more oil companies to explore in these and other areas, such as off the California coast, there is the potential to discover some very large reservoirs as Brazil recently did. With oil at current prices and new technology, it is cost effective to drill offshore and the large oil companies should be encouraged to. The United States continually makes the argument that they are encouraging further exploration to become less dependent on foreign oil, yet the country still does not have a coherent oil policy.
The United States consumes nearly one-fourth of the world’s oil but only produces about 10% so it is imperative to encourage oil companies to invest in the exploration offshore. Additionally, one of the main concerns for both sides is the environment and the potential impact offshore drilling has. The pro-drilling side feels that the current off shore deep water drilling regulations are strict enough yet it has become quite evident after the Horizon oil disaster that the government did not properly police and administer the regulations.
As a result of the BP disaster we are already seeing new innovation on how to improve the cut off valves and new operating procedures This had driven the industry to create much safer procedures concerning the drilling and extraction of oil. On the other hand, many environmentalists feel that the current regulations are still not strict enough because there are still many small oil spills every year and the government is not prepared or equipped to handle another major disaster. After the recent BP Gulf disaster it became very clear the United States government is not equipped to handle such a disaster and serious changes are required.
The environmentalist believe that if deep water offshore drilling would be stopped completely there would not be a chance for a spill, but how would the United States get the oil it so desperately needs. The only way would be by increasing the transportation of oil from the Middle East in the very large tankers. But Statistics have shown that it is more likely that an oil tanker would run a ground and cause a big disaster than an oil platform exploding or having a leak, even though there have been significant improvements in the construction of oil tankers by having the double hulls.
The only way forward is for a compromise from the environmentalist and oil companies. First, the government should implement and have in place an emergency response unit which is equipped to handle a major oil spill disaster with support from the major oil companies operating offshore. Second, the operators with the government should review current regulations and procedures and make changes where needed. These procedures need to be realistic and properly administered with significant times when breaches of regulations occur.
Finally the industry should be encouraged to constantly look for new innovations which could make the exploration and development of oil offshore safer. The government has an obligation to ensure that all of the deep water offshore drilling operators are properly following all policies and regulations. Making these regulations and polices more strict is only part of their job to protect the environment and the well-being of the public Another obligation is when a situation arises, such as an oil spill or serious safety violation, the companies that are responsible for the disaster should step up and take responsibility.
This would involve making sure that the cleanup of the oil spill is done correctly and that the public are informed and protected. This controversy seems to cover two main values, safety and responsibility. Environmentalists are on the side that value safety. Their goal is to ensure the safety of human life and the environment around it. They want to make sure that there are no chemicals or toxins in the air or water that can damage the earth, human life or any creature. Candidates that are pro-drilling, value responsibility.
For example, when an oil spill takes place it is the duty of the company to take full responsibility, both financially and technically to clean up the spill. The consequence of continuing to allow deep water offshore drilling is that there is always the possibility for another disaster to happen. There will always be equipment which may be faulty or breakdown and people not properly doing their job which could lead to a disaster. But hopefully with the sophistication and safety procedures in place the potential disasters can be minimized.
The consequence of totally banning deep water offshore drilling, which is what many environmentalists want, is that the United Stated would become much more reliant on foreign oil to power the country or shift to dirtier energy source such as coal which is already widely used in powering power plants. By having both the environmentalist pushing their opinion and the oil companies fulfilling the demand for an energy source to power industry helps ensure the environment is not totally damaged and allows the oil companies to produce oil safely and economically.
Drilling for oil offshore is something the United States needs, despite the risk of disaster; it still has to be done. Admittedly there is risk in everything we do, so the only thing we can do in this situation is to take as much caution as we can. Passing more regulations and policies which are properly administered helps to ensure the production of oil become safer and more conscious of the environment so that both sides of the argument can be pleased. In conclusion the debate about wether the current deep water oil well drilling policies regulations and policies be revised has caused great debate among both sides.
One side of the controversy believes that the United States should open up all the areas that are restricting oil and natural gas production, in order to meet the future energy needs of the United States and to reduce the dependency on foreign oil. The other side believes that the United States should focus on protecting the oceans and coastal environment from further pollution or potential negative consequences and should develop an energy policy focusing on alternative energy sources such as wind and solar.
Work Cited

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