– Oil And The Environment Essay, Research Paper
Oil and the Environment
The environmental impacts of offshore oil drilling greatly outweigh the economic benefits provided. Although it has been a continuous activity for more than a decade, One can not help but wonder why offshore drilling continues when considering the pollution caused, how it eliminates the supply of natural resources, murders innocent sea creatures, and actually damages the national economy. There are, however, solutions to this problem. Before solutions can be presented, it is important to discuss the various problems.
First, offshore oil drilling results in both sea and land based pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, claims that “with offshore drilling comes substantial routine pollution in the forms of oil and gas.” By routine, the EPA means “a near constant flow from oil rigs and derricks” (Sisskin). Nothing is ever done about the pollution, and until something is done about the oil being put into the sea, our oceans are at risk. So just how much oil is put in the oceans? According to a study conducted by the World Research Institute, ” between 3 and 6 million tons of oil are discharged into the oceans every year” (Gorman 48). To put this in perspective, that is approximately 4 football stadiums filled to the top with oil. That is just every year and this has been going on for more than a decade. In total, 45 million tons of oil in the past ten years that have been put into the oceans. There are several ways that oil ends up in the oceans. One method is through drilling accidents and another is through spillage from tankers and other transports. In 1990 alone, 1/8 of the total oil discharged ” occurred daily in the New York – New Jersey Harbor” (American Oceans Campaign). And this is only an eighth of the total oil spilled. Take a moment and just think about how much oil was spilled that one eighth of 6 million tons is 750,000 tons of oil in just the New York – New Jersey Harbor alone. These large concentrations of oil often devastate marine life, and can lead to extinction of species that inhabit that area. Christos Papoutsis, the energy commissioner of the European Commission stated that when dealing with oil, “sea disposal is neither a realistic, nor a desirable option ” (Cutter). And he is right. The current effects of dumping raw oil into the ocean have severe impacts on the marine life, and the surrounding environment. Companies that dump raw oil into the oceans for whatever reason simply lack the foresight to accurately see the results of the actions. And the pollution from offshore drilling does not stop with marine pollution. In conjunction with marine pollution offshore drilling also creates air pollution. Often times when companies drill for oil, they ” come across packets of natural gases that escape into the air” (Sisskin). The reality is that companies who drill for oil are equipped to handle siphoning the natural gas when they come across it, but simply choose not to. The natural gas then escapes into the environment where they are capable of doing damage not only in the form of global warming, but also mix to form poisonous toxins in the atmosphere. Offshore oil drilling is not only responsible for pollution; it also does more.
Offshore oil drilling will not only leave a lasting impact on the marine life, but decrease natural resources as well. Offshore drilling removes the natural resources that “the world will look to the oceans for in the 21st century” (Environmental News Network). Already, it is clear that our marine resources are overstressed. In a short while, the full effects of depleted oceans will reach us. Countries that rely on the oceans for their economy will simply collapse. The stress that is placed on the oceans leaves a major impact on the creatures that inhabit the area. One of the leaders in the oil industry, Shell, ” has not improved on it’s environmental performance in the Niger Delta” (Rowell 101). The result of this was the death of over 3 million sea-based creatures and a reduction in marine life around the oilrig within a quarter mile radius. Consider a similar effect for every oil platform there is, and it is clear why there has been a severe reduction in marine life. And out at sea is not the only place that offshore disasters can occur. Tanks used to store oil after transportation to shore are dangerous to the environment as well. About “one fourth of the U.S. underground petrol stations are thought to be leaking” (Rowell 104). The leaks from underground led into the waterways, killing both land and sea based life along the way. It is only a matter of time until the leaks reach waterways used as drinking water, and then the full impact will be seen. So with these types of pollution, is offshore drilling even somewhat safe for the environment? The results given were just from a simple underground leak. An actual oil spill has far greater impact on the marine life. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, only 2,400 California otters remained. This number is small when compared to the “nearly twice that number [that] were killed during the spill in Alaska” (AOC). That is approximately two thirds of the California otter population, lost to only one spill. At the current rate, the California otter will face extinction because of oil spillage. This is only one example of the several species that now face extinction because of offshore oil drilling. So with all of these problems, is offshore drilling worth the cost, maintenance, and repair of the offshore rigs? The answer is clearly no.
In reality, offshore oil drilling is not economically feasible. The main reason that offshore drilling is not viable is because it takes ” one hundred million barrels [of oil] in a small area to make it feasible” (Bunin). When referring to a small area, an oilrig must turn up that number of barrels within a fifty-yard area, which is very rare. Failure to do so often leads to a loss in profits for that company, which in turn causes them to regain money in any way possible. The obvious solution is to construct more rigs in an attempt to regain profit. However, when it fails to turn a profit, the cycle repeats itself. But companies do not only pay for the rigs that fail to generate money. Companies that fail to follow environmental regulations must pay fines ” that are rare, but often in large quantities” (Department of Justice). Companies pay on average over 8.3 million dollars in fines for pollution and unsafe working environments. Unfortunately, to most companies, this is hardly any amount of money at all. Although fines are in large quantities, it is never enough to stop a company from continuing to drill. Fines for spills are insignificant, as ” the Department of Justice collected less than 30 million dollars in 1990 for all environmental violations” (The Wilderness Society). Companies decide that if it costs very little to deal with an oil spill, then there is no reason to put more money into developing the safety of these rigs. And until solutions are provided this irreversible trend will continue, resulting in often irreversible damage to the environment. Offshore oil drilling companies have often a materialistic view of the problem asking “‘can we do it’” only after asking themselves “‘how much will it cost’” (Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy). This attitude has affected large companies such as Shell, who know that even with any losses from offshore drilling, they can recover the profit from land based sources. Therefore, they fail to maintain their rigs, resulting in environmental disasters. The end result is that only under very rare circumstances is offshore drilling economically viable, and even then, the cost for maintenance and repair to avoid fines is high.
There are, however, solutions to the offshore drilling problem. When looking at the costs required for most solutions, ” the costs are truly trivial” (AEPS). Until companies realize this, they will continue their current offshore drilling practices. Some companies realize that solutions are necessary, but their solution is simply to scrap the rig when it has gotten all of its use. Companies fail to realize that most solutions cost less than what they are currently paying for maintenance of the rigs. According to the External Relations Manager for Shell, “whatever we throw in is still a drop in the ocean” (Onishi). This attitude has prevented Shell from making the necessary changes to their rigs in order to make them environmentally safe. Shell pays over 3.2 billion dollars each year in fines, but the cost to bring all of their rigs up to standards costs only 1.4 billion dollars. So why haven’t companies done this? They just don’t care. So what is needed in order to prevent this environmental disaster? Well, stricter legislation is a start towards ending the environmental problems associated with offshore drilling. Most oil spills such as the Exxon Valdez are carried by civil suits, which are tax-deductible. So a company creates an oil spill, faces civil charges, and then often gets a tax return. That obviously was not the way fines are supposed to work. Until companies have a mandatory set of bylaws to abide by, they will continue to violate safety codes. For oilrigs that are disused, simply restarting them will ” increase the energy supply and reduce the amount of actual or potential environmental safety hazards at no cost to taxpayers” (California Environmental Resources Evaluation System). This is a far better alternative than simply building additional rigs. Since solutions such as these cost the taxpayers nothing, the final decision on what to do about the oilrigs lays on the oil companies.
Offshore drilling is hardly a viable option economically when weighted against the negative environmental impact that results from its use. The marine and air pollution, the impact on the marine life, and the lack of profit from offshore drilling does not deter oil companies. Will companies change their current policies regarding the above issues? No, not until laws are passed that make it a necessity for companies to make the changes necessary.
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