In terms of hot topics, offshore drilling is kin to a raging forest fire. It is one of the more vehemently opposed, or supported, solutions to our accelerating energy crisis. The GOP ticket sure has plenty of experience in offshore drilling or, at least, in talking about it and voting for it. The Democrats have long opposed offshore drilling and have fought vigorously to keep it from expansion, claiming that it’s a short-term solution at best because there just isn’t enough oil off our shores (relative to our demand). Although, the Obama/Biden campaign has recently come out in support of some offshore drilling. So what’s the deal? Is offshore drilling suddenly a unifying force in politics? Could it really be safe now? Not likely. Still, risks are high and rewards are low. And yet a lot of myths persist in presidential debates and media discussions. Here are three big ones that I hear most and why they fall apart with just a little investigation:
Drilling offshore will reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Sure there is oil off our coasts, most notably in the Atlantic, and they could be harvested. But to what end? Experts widely agree that the U.S. has but 3% of the world’s oil in reserve (including ANWR), but we consume 25%. Where will the other 22% come from? Foreign countries. There is no erasing our dependence on foreign oil with an energy policy focused on oil, on or off shore.
Offshore drilling is finally safe. The oil industry and drilling supporters claim that technology is so far advanced now that drilling can be done with little or no environmental impact. Yes the machinery is more high-tech and less likely for failure. But they are ignoring natural forces. Like a huge slap in the face to offshore drilling, Hurricane Ike wreaked havoc on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, which spilled over a half-million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf and bordering wetlands. This is not to mention that Katrina and Rita, from a few years back, caused 734,400 gallons of oil to be spilled. Bear in mind that 100,000 gallons is considered a major spill.
It will help the economy, and prices at the pump, right now. Another myth surrounding offshore drilling is that it will be the shot in the arm our economy needs right now. It is an immediate solution that is going to waste right under our noses. Again, things just don’t happen that fast. What will immediately rise are problems with infrastructure (i.e., pipelines, receiving stations, refineries, etc.) and oil rigs that aren’t even there. According to Nicholas Pardi, a spokesman for the Minerals Management Service, it usually takes eight years for an oil company to begin drilling after a lease is acquired. Furthermore, despite the fact that Congress quietly let the ban on offshore drilling expire in September, companies will still be unable to get leases for another two years at least; plenty of time for a Democratically controlled Congress to renew the ban.
I just can’t find reason to actively support offshore drilling. Any argument I can find in favor of drilling is left standing at superficial rhetoric and misleading half-truths. The core of the issue is energy independence and – right or wrong, safe or unsafe – offshore drilling will not make any significant difference in that regard. The fact is, renewable technology, like solar, wind, and biofuels offer a much more sustainable, long-term solution. And the longer we wait to pursue these options, the worse our energy problems will become. If you want some concrete evidence, go swim in the Gulf of Mexico.