Commentary

The Stupidity of Obama’s Drill-Drill-Drill Offshore Oil Policy

British Petroleum had a fail-safe system for its Deepwater Horizon floating deep-water drilling rig.

You know, the one that blew up and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving a tangled spaghetti pile of 22-inch steel pipe one mile long all balled up on the sea floor a mile below the surface, leaking oil at over 200,000 gallons per day–equivalent to a whole supertanker breaking up in the Gulf every month and a half.

The thing is, the fail-safe system, about the size of a McMansion sitting at the wellhead on the ocean floor, um, failed. It didn’t collapse and shut off the flow of oil as intended, and it could take months now to shut the well down–during which time the leak rate is likely to increase to up to 300,000 gallons per day, or over two million gallons a week.

President Obama claimed last month that off-shore drilling technology had become so advanced that oil spills and blowouts were a thing of the past. Of course, as he said this, Australia and Indonesia were still assessing the damage from a similar offshore oil platform, the Montana, in the Timor Sea, which blew out and poured millions of gallons of oil into the ocean off Western Australia for more than three months before it could be sealed off.

Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Given that this is true, particular of complex technological enterprises, the question that needs to be asked is not, what is the probability of a catastrophic failure of an offshore well, but what is the potential damage in the event of even one such catastrophe for the local environment?

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, the potential damage if this well really blows is staggering. Just 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, it poses a near fatal risk to the region’s wetlands and bayous, with their shrimp and oyster fisheries, not to mention the breeding grounds they provide for endangered birds, fish and other animals.

But the real lesson of the Deepwater Horizon is what it means for expanded drilling in the Arctic waters north of Alaska.

Oil companies, including BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell and others, like Goldman traders looking at a tranch of subprime mortgages, are casting covetous eyes on the Arctic Ocean and the oil and gas that studies suggest lie under the virgin sea floor. Their plan is to drill for these hydrocarbons once the summer sea ice vanishes as a result of rising global temperatures (more about this in a future article).

Obama, as part of his opening of more coastal areas to drilling, is including areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, which are already ice free during summer.

But let’s think about this for a moment. Suppose there were a blowout like the one in the Gulf of Mexico at a rig drilling in the Arctic? Suppose it happened towards the end of the short summer, when the ice was about to return to cover the ocean surface? If it was a blowout that couldn’t be plugged, like the Montana blowout in the Timor Sea, or if the fail-safe system at the wellhead failed, as with the Deepwater Horizon, and if the only solution was, as with the Montana well, to drill new wells to ease the pressure on the blown well, how would this be done, once the ice moved in?

Answer? It couldn’t be done. Murphy’s Law again. And so millions of gallons of crude oil would rise up out of the burst wellhead to spread out underneath the ice, whence it would eventually move on to destroy hundreds of miles of fragile coastline, probably killing untold numbers of species that live in the affected waters. The damage from such a completely predictable disaster wouldn’t just be staggering, like the Montana or the Deepwater Horizon blowouts, but incomprehensible!

So why are we even talking about this?

The argument, made ad nauseum by Republicans and Democrats alike, is that the US needs more energy, and that we don’t want to be dependent for our oil on “countries that hate us.”

And yet, there is a much simpler answer than hanging a hydrocarbon Sword of Damocles over our nation’s critical coastal areas. Just copy Europe and impose a 100% tax on gas and oil, to make people turn away from 15 or 20 or 25-mile-per-gallon vehicles and start driving fuel-efficient cars, car-pooling or forgoing cars altogether.

Even better, tax the crap out of cars that don’t get at least 35 or even 40 mpg.

Oh, I know. People will say, “but poor people in rural areas or in the suburbs can’t pay those rates for gas to get to work, and they have to buy used cars that don’t get such high mileage rates.”

I understand the problem, but it is solvable, by establishing refundable tax credits for low-income people who can document long commuting distances, for example.

The main point is that the country doesn’t need to drill in risky settings. It needs only to cut oil consumption.

What’s clear is that drilling in the open ocean is simply disaster after disaster waiting to happen.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist. He is author of Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Common Courage Press, 2003) and The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at thiscantbehappening.net

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4 Responses for “The Stupidity of Obama’s Drill-Drill-Drill Offshore Oil Policy”

  1. Doug Rose says:

    This is going to be Obama’s “Katrina” ! lol

    Let’s see him Blame Bush for this !

  2. Intelligent Guy says:

    Drill, Drill Drill = Spill, Spill, Spill
    Maybe even stupid people will get the point now?! Great article! Alaska had the Exxon Valdez, but I guess that spill was long forgotten. Obama made a big mistake by proposing to allow drilling of Florida. But he got lucky and got this new spill just in time to remind him of his stupidity. To Doug Rose – you are an idiot if you compare Bush to Obama. Bush clearly killed too many brain cells while drinking; he was just about the dumbest person I could imagine…

  3. Mr Man says:

    Im confused.. mabey someone can help me .. lets back up to August 2008, Sen. John McCain and the GOP leadership nationalized the drill, drill, drill message. Mitch McConnell offered unanimous-consent requests to vote on lifting the ban on deep-water exploration, and the Democrats objected.Polls suggest that two-thirds to three-quarters of the nation wants to drill.When President George W. Bush eliminated the executive moratorium on offshore drilling, effectively launching the drill, drill, drill offensive, oil was close to $150 a barrel.
    Ok ill admit that our current Pres has his hand in this issue .. But lets be clear on WHO CAUSED the mess we are currently in.
    And If we believe the polls. AMERICANS WANTED THE OIL AND DIDNT CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT…So its your own Fault!! quit blaiming the man who is doing what YOU asked him to do. Against his better wishes!

  4. Denver says:

    And your solutiuon is we quit drilling, lose another million or so jobs to overseas, be even more dependent on foriegn oil Gods or do you think we should just all go out and hug a tree until you wiuth all of your wisdom deliver us from this lesser evil….Tell you what why dont you get us all started on ther right path by parking your car, stop using every thing that has a pertroleum base and all consumer goods that were delivered by a transporatation source that uses an oil based fuel.
    I think your problem is more with Obama than anything concerning oil or oil production.

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