New Drilling in the Gulf

© Inhabitat

Last week the Interior Department announced that deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico will resume for the first time since this past summer’s catastrophic oil spill left over 200 million gallons of oil in the Gulf and 11 workers and thousands of marine life dead.

The first drilling permit was granted to Houston-based Noble Energy, who will resume drilling their Santiago well 70 miles off the coast of Louisiana within the next month. Noble’s Santiago well is actually deeper the BP well that exploded this past April, with over 13,000 feet already drilled before the spill and approximately 5,500 more to go.

Lawmakers and media outlets are insisting the nation needs more offshore drilling in light of the 33-cent rise in gas prices over the past two weeks, the highest it’s been in two and a half years, and the potential threat to our imported oil supply as a result of the political unrest in the Middle East and Libya.

Randall B. Luthi, former director of offshore drilling regulation at the Interior Department and now president of the National Ocean Industries Association, a drillers’ trade group, said Noble’s permit approval comes at a critical moment. “With all the world-complicating factors, including rising oil prices, political turmoil in the Middle East and the loss of jobs in the Gulf of Mexico, this decision offers hope,” he said.

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu (D) called the permit “long overdue,” adding “I hope that this permit is the first of many to come, and I will continue to use every lever at my disposal to ensure that it is.” Judge Martin Feldman, of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, recently ordered the Obama administration to move quickly on new permits for deepwater wells, saying that the continued delays were “increasingly inexcusable.”

Those concerned with the state of the Gulf wonder if we are rushing into what could be another unthinkable ecological disaster. However, Michael Bromwich, the head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, insists that the permit was issued only because Noble Energy was able to prove they had the necessary equipment and safety measures to contain a blow-out like BP’s.

“This permit was issued for one simple reason: The operator successfully demonstrated that it could drill its deepwater well safely and that it was capable of containing a subsea blowout if it were to occur. We expect further deepwater permits to be approved in the coming weeks and months based on the same factors that led to the approval of this permit,” Bromwich said in a recent statement.

Even with greater environmental oversight, the benefits of offshore drilling to Americans filling up at gas pumps today remains in question. Jim Moriarty, CEO of the Surfrider Foundation, noted in their report “The Economic Case Against Offshore Drilling” that the U.S. Energy Information Administration found: “…[drilling in] the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on oil prices before 2030”. According to Michael A. Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, by 2030, gas might go down about 3 cents. What’s more, our domestic production will not be enough to completely cover our energy needs, so we will still be dependent on foreign oil. In an article in Scientific American, Robert Kaufman, an expert on world oil markets and director of Boston University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, stated, “At its peak in production, which occurred in 1970s, the U.S. produced about 10 million [barrels of oil] a day. Now, after 30 years of fairly steady decline, we produce about five million barrels a day, whereas we consume 20 million barrels daily.”

“Thinking that there is more oil to be drilled offshore gives people a false sense of hope that there’s actually enough oil out there to make us energy independent,” says Jonathan Dorn, staff researcher at the Earth Policy Institute. “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”

David Friedman, research director with the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists argues that moving forward on clean car technology is a better solution. “When it comes to saving oil, improving the fuel economy of our cars and trucks blows offshore drilling out of the water. Boosting the fuel economy of our cars and trucks to just 35 miles per gallon can save nearly as much oil as we currently import from the Persian Gulf, while saving consumers money at the gas pump. In contrast, opening areas of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast that were previously unavailable for drilling would lower gas prices by less than 2 cents a gallon 20 years from now, while providing less than two months worth of oil over the next two decades.”