Deep Sea News

From CNN.com:

“President Bush asked Congress on Wednesday to permit drilling for oil in deep water off America’s coasts to combat rising oil and gas prices.

“There is no excuse for delay,” the president said in a Rose Garden statement.

Bush also renewed his demand that Congress allow drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, clear the way for more refineries and encourage efforts to recover oil from shale in areas such as the Green River Basin of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Bush said that the basin potentially contains more than three times as much recoverable oil as Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves and that the high price of oil makes it profitable to extract it.

[...] The White House estimates that there are 18 billion barrels of oil offshore that have not been exploited because of state bans, 10 billion to 12 billion in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the Green River Basin.

However, much of the U.S. oil is difficult or impossible to extract under current law.

As for gas prices, resuming offshore exploration would not be a quick fix.

“If we were to drill today, realistically speaking, we should not expect a barrel of oil coming out of this new resource for three years, maybe even five years, so let’s not kid ourselves,” said Fadel Gheit, oil and gas analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. Equity Capital Markets Division.

But it almost certainly would be profitable.”

The amount that is “thought” to be extractable will last for 10 years under current demand. In reality, demand is in a state of seemingly perpetual increase so this number is an overestimate. Is 5-10 years of oil worth a lifetime of reduction in ecosystem services, habitat loss and biodiversity decline? This is typical short-term thinking spinned off as “We must do this for the poor working man and small business owner”. Those people, which my wife and I are both a part of, will not receive any relief from gas and oil expenses no matter how deep in the ocean we drill and whether everywhere square inch of the US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is dotted with oil rigs. Prices will not appreciably fall anymore. Not the $0.82 I left behind in Iowa in the late 90′s when I moved out of my hometown and started my own life as a young adult. It will still be expensive to operate hydrocarbon based machinery. The map below, from the CNN.com story, shows the extent of the EEZ.

i-07d27e0973a9ee0f908156382d6e6337-EEZMAP.png

Bush and McCain want congress to open up the full extent of the EEZ to drilling and exploration. The EEZ also covers the move sensitive habitat for ocean productivity and biodiversity whether from deep and shallow coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern US, seamounts in the northeast, kelp beds and upwelling zones in the west and even hydrothermal vents in northwest (methane seeps too in Oregon and California).

In my opinion, feel free to disagree in the comments, there is too much at stake for such little return. Indeed, the geophysical methods are not always accurate in determining how much economically extractable oil and gas reserves lie kilometers beneath the deep seafloor. Congress should not allow this short-sighted view to ruin our productive and scenic coasts. Tourism and fishing alone will probably generate more revenue over the same period of oil use.

Solutions? Improve mass transit, including upgrading the railways. Yes it costs billions of dollars, but once its done, it is maintenance costs after that. Airline companies can take the initiative and transition to railway companies to compete with the Amtrak monopoly, possible lowering prices. Encourage individual renewable energy solutions for the home including built in ground heat exchangers, solar panels (even a few sunny months a year can still help), water reclamation. Improving construction materials and home-building standards to ensure minimal heat loss. Continue development of fuel efficient cars and energy efficient appliances. Encourage less long distance travel by car or small plane. There are a plethora of ways to make improvements from the individual level to the federal level. Some of these have high up front costs, but spread over the long term (beyond the election cycle) the benefit will be immense.

Comments

  1. #1 Jonsi
    June 18, 2008

    I am in favor of offshore drilling, but I am in favor of it in the sense that you do ROV surveys of habitat with biologists classifying the seafloor, extensive geotechnical studies to assess hazards, etc. Basically, the current system, not one more lax. We don’t have to produce all fossil fuels just because they are there. All the proposals would only ease prices a couple of cents at most. In fact, it might increase prices. Moving into deepwater is incredibly expensive and was not profitable in the past. This is pandering for votes and it wouldn’t impact the average Joe more than $20 over the course of a year.

  2. #2 vanderleun
    June 18, 2008

    Admirable solutions, but you’ll still have to drill to make the bridge to the future. It’s that or prepare for a world that is inching ever closer to war. And not a sideshow war like Iraq, either. Nations go to war for oil and for energy. And not just this nation, nor this nation versus other nations. There are other potential conflicts to consider. Drill locally, think globally. That way you might, you might, have a chance of making it to your brave new world. Don’t assume that other nations share the vision of this nation’s environmentalists.

    Think about what a few large conflicts would do to everybody’s “productive and scenic coasts. Tourism and fishing.” That’s what we’re toying with here. It’s time to stop playing around.

  3. #3 eric
    June 19, 2008

    How is increased offshore drilling going to help current or short term prices (which is what the plug was)? They won’t even appreciably help prices 1-2 years from now. Makes me want to ask the extremely cynical (but maybe not so far off the mark) question: Who will this really will benefit?

    re: Think about what a few large conflicts would do to everybody’s “productive and scenic coasts. Tourism and fishing.” That’s what we’re toying with here. It’s time to stop playing around.

    WTF? Nurse!

  4. #4 Peter
    June 19, 2008

    It’s a little disturbing that the Bush administration is pushing for new national marine monuments on the one hand, and new offshore drilling on the other hand. I wish they were more transparent about how these two different goals overlap.

    The map above is slightly misleading. There is drilling within the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Just one rig on East Flower Garden Bank, that has been known to leak occasionally. Fines go to Sanctuary operations. Some rigs are useful for science, ie equipped with current meters and such, but I agree its tough to justify more offshore drilling considering the industry’s track record for spills.

  5. #5 vanderleun
    June 19, 2008

    “How is increased offshore drilling going to help current or short term prices (which is what the plug was)? They won’t even appreciably help prices 1-2 years from now. Makes me want to ask the extremely cynical (but maybe not so far off the mark) question: Who will this really will benefit?”

    Well, you’ve got to start sometime, don’t you. We’re already decades late at putting this in place. As for who it benefits… it benefits everybody. Just as failing to drill hurts everybody. You may not want your share of the benefits but you get them just the same. You can’t live if the roads don’t roll. Well, maybe you can but you won’t like it all that much.

    As for the WTF!: When nations get uptight enough for energy and cannot supply it by any other means, they go to war for it. And war these days is not good for flowers, children or marine environments. In energy planning this is a factor that can’t be ignored. I don’t know how to make it any plainer. It is going to take time to construct some sort of energy matrix that is overwhelmingly renewable. That’s an obvious fact. There is going to have to be expanded offshore drilling on a much wider scale to buy that time. Our little part of the world is not the only player here.

  6. #6 Pete Dunkelberg
    June 22, 2008

    The sudden necessity for more offshore leasing (mineral rights give away) is a transparent election year gimmick. If you have paid attention to news and analysis on the subject you might know: the oil companies have been stockpiling exploration leases which they are not using. Ten thousand or more. These will be much more valuable in a couple decades ….
    Were there will to drill there were plenty of opportunity without new leases. There is no need to give away the last, most sensitive remaining areas just because of the election.

    It would take at least ten, perhaps 20 years for new offshore wells to come online. There is a shortage of drilling rigs, foreign interests buy up what is avalible, there is a shortage of even the needed ships. (see New York Times article a couple days ago).

    Some antienvironmentalists would want to tear up the most sensitive areas first, but the oil companies probably would not. So don’t expect new oil from these areas until the 2030′s. The difference in price at the pump, if any, would be hard to distinguish from a rounding error.

    Some reasons not to lease and drill the sensitive areas.

    What “good” does this idea do? It helps dream that we have no problem, cheap oil is forever, forget climate change, forget conservation, never mind alternative energy, elect more Repubs. How obvious does an election scam have to be?

    There is so much opportunity to gain from conservation and alternative energy! Solar energy is one of the easiest.

  7. #7 bi -- IJI
    June 24, 2008

    A 3–5 year wait and the destruction of habitats… just so that the US can get 5–10 years’ worth of energy?

    What?

    This is madness!

    Strangely, the Bush and McCain supporters can’t be bothered to grasp this fact. Instead they’ve gone on their usual liberal-sliming and Gore-bashing. *sigh*

    – bi, International Journal of Inactivism