Fossil Fuels Map of the northern Gulf of Mexico showing the nearly 4,000 active oil and gas platforms. NOAA Photo

Published on August 21st, 2011 | by Bob Higgins


More Drilling in the Gulf, The Death of a Thousand Cuts

August 21st, 2011 by  

Map of the northern Gulf of Mexico showing the nearly 4,000 active oil and gas platforms. NOAA Photo

Map of the northern Gulf of Mexico showing the nearly 4,000 active oil and gas platforms. NOAA Photo

Map of the northern Gulf of Mexico showing the nearly 4,000 active oil and gas platforms. NOAA Photo

There are about 4000 active oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, a fact I bumped into while researching an article on BP’s Macondo field Deepwater Horizon disaster last year.

In addition, there are more than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells that dot the Gulf, actually it’s much more like a blanket.

This morning I ran across a map and a video by tsinn at The Sword Press in which he plots these wells by time and position as well as location as in the NOAA map above.

Watching the brief video is a bit ominous as the rigs spread east and west along the Gulf coast and retreat farther from shore and into ever deeper water over a time span from 1942 through 2005.

I had oil on my mind over coffee this morning because the first item in my Email was a NYT article “U.S. to Offer Oil Leases in the Gulf.” Times writer John M. Broder reveals the administration’s new lease plans and he stopped me cold with this statement:

The lease offering includes parcels from nine to 250 miles offshore and in water depths from 16 to nearly 11,000 feet. The Interior Department estimates that the tract could produce 222 million to 423 million barrels of oil and 1.49 trillion to 2.65 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. “ U.S. to Offer Oil Leases in the Gulf.” John M. Broder NYT

Please note that many of these wells will be more than five times as far from the coast and in more than twice the water depth as BPs colossal failure of last year, greatly increasing the technological problems and challenges while making recovery and mitigation of a spill vastly more problematic.

We use on the order of 20 million barrels of oil every day in this country so the low end of the above estimate would add only about 12 days to our supply while the high estimate would add a whopping three weeks. I have to ask, why bother? There is, by all accounts, plenty of oil on the market. There are no shortages except those manufactured for television by the oil industry, Wall Street, the Banks, and casino operators to keep us from squeaking too loudly about the big ripoff at the pump.

At a hundred dollars a barrel the oil barons will realize more fiscal quarters of obscene profit while adding hundreds of millions of barrels to their proven reserves, and balance sheets, increasing their stock value and executive pay and bonuses.

The article doesn’t give the size of the current lease offering but tells us:

The last western gulf sale, held in August 2009, covered 18.4 million acres and brought in $111 million.

The last lease sale before the BP blowout and spill was for the central Gulf of Mexico in March 2010. It covered almost 37 million acres and yielded $920 million. U.S. to Offer Oil Leases in the Gulf.” John M. Broder NYT

The yield to the public is paltry compared to the profits derived by the oil companies from the use of public lands and waters, especially when considered against the risks to public safety and health and the kind of damage left behind by bad actors like BP.

With 4000 active wells already in the Gulf and nearly seven times that many abandoned like so many gum wrappers it is apparent that the oil companies should be required to sweep up behind their operations. I’d like to see big oil forced to replace their played out facilities with solar, wind, and tidal farms, wherever feasible, rather than simply walking away from their trash and leaving it for the public to clean up.

When tarballs and oil slicks appear in the Gulf or elsewhere the companies are quick to remind us that there are natural oil seeps in the world’s oceans and I’m sure that’s true. But with over thirty thousand additional unnatural holes drilled in the floor of the Gulf how many active or abandoned, plugged or unplugged sites are leaking?

No one knows the answer because no one is required to check.

The push for drilling in ever more difficult and risky climes and conditions is making it ever more probable that the BP oil disaster will be repeated and likely surpassed in its catastrophic effects in the future. The Shell spill in the North Sea last week, a mere 55,000 gallons, barely got a mention in the media.

Also largely ignored is the fact that on the heels of the spill came the news that the government had given a tentative go ahead to Shell’s plan to drill in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s north coast.

Meanwhile we keep upping the ante, offering more leases with fewer conditions and less oversight while the poor pierced and pockmarked oceans die the death of a thousand cuts.

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About the Author

Lifelong liberal of the Tom Paine wing. Marine Vietnam vet. Have worked as a photographer, cab driver, bartender, carpenter, cabinetmaker, writer and editor. Now retired on a Veterans Disability program I spend my time writing, and complaining about politics and the environment.

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  • Drake Titusville

    The author of this piece made one truly erroneous statement.

    He mistakenly said: “There is, by all accounts, plenty of oil on the market. There are no shortages except those manufactured for television by the oil industry, Wall Street, the Banks, and casino operators to keep us from squeaking too loudly about the big ripoff at the pump.” And this is entirely incorrect.

    To be fair, he was referencing the oil “on the market.” And truthfully there IS enough oil “on the market” TODAY to meet the oil demands of TODAY. But because he is only focusing on the short term, he failed to grasp the big picture, which is that when oil gets sucked out from the Earth’s crust via a human oil extraction project, the amount of time needed for it to travel from that oil field to a tanker/pipeline, and then into “the market” (specifically the global crude oil auctions) is mere weeks. So he is being very shortsighted in his perceptions of where oil ultimately comes from — the ground. And it’s beneath the ground where we now find ourselves running into bigger and more complicated problems all the time now.

    There IS a shortage of oil. Specifically, we are growing progressively much short on what is known as CONVENTIONAL oil. All that remains in the Earth’s crust now is the unconventional stuff. Very hard to get at, very expensive to get out of the ground, very expensive to deliver in a halfway manageable form to a refinery, and very expensive to cram through that refinery.

    The Earth hit its peak in conventional oil back in 2006. So the amount of conventional oil now left in the Earth’s crust for us to find and extract is only shrinking all the faster every year going forward. Unconventional oil is pretty much all that remains now for our future. And no oil company wants to admit that, even though they know it’s the truth. The reason they don’t want to admit it is that unconventional oil will be their undoing.

    Here’s why ….

    The current structure of the entire global economy is desperately reliant upon oil on two crucial levels:

    1) oil MUST be cheap
    2) oil MUST be plenteous

    But now that our planet’s stores of conventional oil have been exhausted into terminal decline, all oil from here onward will be neither cheap nor plenteous. And thus the current structure of the entire global economy is threatened. Even the military security of all industrialized nations will be threatened. We are right now witnessing the dawn of a new era of energy constraints, economic upheavals, and global unrest of the sort that will not merely be limited to Third World nations. Modern industrialized nations will each suffer violent unrest as this new era of energy scarcity takes hold of ALL economies:

    — local economies
    — regional economies
    — national economies
    — Third World economies
    — Developing world economies
    — First World economies

    There is no facet of human civilization that will not be impacted during the course of the next 10 – 15 years as these upheavals start to manifest themselves. Companies will go broke. Factories will shut down. Shipping will become unreliable. All of modern society will downgrade –slowly and painfully, over the course of about a decade– into a bitter state of has-been-hood, a pathetic shadow of what used to be.

    The direness of this crisis is so severe that these privately-held oil companies, which are just puny little operations, are fearful of the day coming when oil operations will get subjected to the dreaded “n”-word: nationalization. Governmental bodies will soon nationalize (take over) the last few remaining private oil companies in the world (those include BP, Shell, Mobil, Chevron, Texaco, and Total) and will transform them into government-owned operations just like Saudi Aramco, and Pemex and Gazprom and Petrbras and Statoil (to name a few). The reason governments will do this is because oil is more than just a commodity to be traded for personal profit. It is a strategic resource of dire military importance. Nations have failed due to a lack of oil. (Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because of oil. And Nazi Germany finally surrendered to the Allies because we choked off Germany’s oil supply, and so the Nazi war machine LITERALLY ran out of gas.) Does anyone here really think the military leaders of the Free World will sit still as the one and only Achilles’ Heel of a resource to their daily operations gets priced out of their reach? The world currently consumes over 87 million barrels per day, and the US consumes 20 million of that 87 million. And while the exact number of barrels per day that the United States Armed Forces currently consumes is NOT available for public knowledge, it has been confirmed repeatedly that the US Military is THE Number One consumer of oil per day in the world with a per-soldier average of 100 barrels of oil per day per soldier in the field. A convoy of 100 military vehicles crossing the deserts of Iraq will easily include 60 or even 90 trucks which are JUST carrying oil or some form of petroleum-derived fuel.

    Steve Browning, one of the other readers who commented on this article, was correct: without these energy sources, we would live in a dark, dank world. What he failed to mention is that out of all forms of energy, it’s oil –especially the cheap and plenteous oil– which is the most pivotal form of energy. And without it our entire way of life is capable of collapsing literally overnight.

    We will NOT see an overnight collapse simply because we will not experience an overnight disappearance of cheap and plenteous oil. We instead will experience a slow-motion train wreck spread out over a generation marked by grief and devastation.

  • frens

    thanks for sharing

    I’m just sayin’…

  • Steven Browning

    Oil exploration, coal mining, and nuclear energy are necessary evils or we would live in a dark, dank world. Research how much of the electricity, heating, and production costs of “clean energy” alternatives aren’t so clean.

    • When we are using solar pv or thermal, wind turbines and tidal farms to produce energy to create more green energy to build the infrastructure of the future, I’ll thank you to revisit your words and perhaps dine on them.

      Thanks for taking time to comment.

    • Anonymous

      Steven, they are not necessary at all. I’m sorry, but they aren’t.

      And the environmental costs of renewable energy are covered many times over by what they offset.

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