Monday, September 29, 2008


By Kay Slaughter

Distress at the gas pump won’t be resolved by drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, despite the American propensity, when frustrated, to act, even if that action is largely meaningless. The politicians are pandering to polls showing that people want elected officials to do something -- anything -- to reduce the cost of gas. Drilling won't do that and politicians need to tell them.

The government’s own estimates are that, at best, the entire Atlantic Coast would yield 100 days of gasoline. There is no evidence that additional leases would lead to lower prices or that the oil, in particular, would even be used in the U. S.

Moreover, if exploration starts now, we can expect any oil to materialize in about 10 to 20 years.

The oil companies would love to have more "futures" on which to speculate and more leases to pick from.

Here are some other facts:

  • While the numbers of permits for the oil and gas development on federal lands has risen by more than 361%, gasoline prices during this same time period have also risen.
  • Moreover, only 10.5 million acres of the 44 million currently leased are producing oil or gas. Oil and gas companies hold leases to nearly 68 million acres of federal land and waters that are not producing oil and gas.
  • According to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, opening up the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions “would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030.
  • Leasing would begin no sooner than 2012, and production would not be expected to start before 2017.”
  • Because oil prices are determined on the international market, “any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.”

But what about the environmental costs?

First, the consequences of off shore drilling on the coastal areas are often overlooked. To support oil and gas exploration and development, new roads, pipelines, ports, and industrial processing facilities must be built on the nearby coasts. In the South Atlantic, this would include the area around Virginia Beach, the outer banks of North Carolina, or nearby estuaries.
These will have devastating impact on coastal areas, wetlands and sensitive lands that are already stressed with development.

There are many consequences from the exploration and drilling:

  • “Airguns” sending thousands of blasts of seismic waves into the ocean reveal oil and gas resources. These blasts have led to mass strandings of whales and other marine mammals and harm fish, thus resulting in decreased commercial fishing catches.
  • Offshore drilling results in the discharge of substantial drilling muds and "produced waters". These contain lots of toxins including mercury, radium and other materials that are harmful to life. The dumping of muds also smothers sea life on the ocean floor. At high concentrations, the pollutants kill marine life. At lower concentrations, they cause birth defects and impaired growth.
  • Accidental oil spills resulting from human error or equipment failure cause irreversible harm to ocean life. Just remember, oil spreads on water at a rate of one half a football field per second. It is toxic to marine life, andcannot be fully cleaned up. Despite industry claims, technological advances have not protected drilling from storms or spill prevention.
  • For example, Department of Interior's Mineral Management Service reports that 435,330 gallons of oil spilled from platforms and drilling rigs during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
  • An additional 306,054 gallons of oil leaked from pipelines damaged during these storms.
  • More than 7 million gallons of petroleum products spilled from onshore operations, reminding us that the transport of oil and gas via pipeline and tankers invites many risks k of leakage and spill.
  • Air becomes polluted from oil and gas drilling due to ozone, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur compounds.
  • Ships transporting oil and gas also discharge harmful air pollutants as a result of the low-grade fuel they burn and the fugitive emissions from the materials they are carrying.

Are all these impacts worth 100 days of oil ?

According to CBS program, Fast Draw [check out the video on this page], although John McCain has ridiculed Barack Obama for his suggestions, we could save 7 billion gallons of gas from inflating tires, reducing highway speed by 5 miles AND dealing with obesity (so the cars aren’t carrying such fat people). Offshore oil drilling by contrast would bring only 1.4 billion gallons of gas.

Instead of lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling, which will not lead to lower gasoline prices, other steps, such as energy efficiency measures and the development of alternative fuels, will lead to lower fuel costs and reduced dependency on fossil fuels. We should talk about the facts to our friends . . . and to our politicians.

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