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

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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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