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Donald F. Boesch
President, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Donald F. Boesch

Donald F. Boesch, an oceanographer, is president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and Vice Chancellor for Environmental Sustainability for the University System of Maryland.


Winds of change?

At this writing, crude oil is continuing to leak from the crumpled riser pipe lying on the seabed in 5,000 feet of water at the Deepwater Horizon drilling site in Mississippi Canyon Block 252. Technically a blowout from an 18,000-foot exploration well on the Macando
, rather than a spill onto the sea surface, this incident underscores the associated risks, even in the exploration stage, much less during full-scale development (drilling of numerous production wells, production and transportation of oil and gas, and the onshore infrastructure required to support these activities).

A Louisiana native, some years ago I conducted research and scientific assessments of the long-term effects of offshore oil and gas development. To be objective, the amount of oil spilled from U.S. offshore development is remarkable in that it has been much lower than the alternative of tanker transportation on a per volume of supply basis. Spills from offshore rigs have been small. The largest previous spill was one off Louisiana in 1967 when an anchor damaged a buried pipeline, releasing nearly 161,000 barrels of crude oil. There have been only 13 spills since 1998 that have exceeded 1,000 barrels, most of those hurricane related.

The most significant, enduring effects of offshore petroleum development have resulted from the physical impacts of supporting activities onshore. Indeed the impacts of the oil and gas extraction industry (both coastal and offshore) on Gulf Coast wetlands represent an environmental catastrophe of massive and underappreciated proportions.

Still, offshore drilling is clearly not risk-free, particularly when fail-safe blowout preventers fail. And, as the Deepwater Horizon blowout demonstrates, even though the risk may be low, the consequences may be quite high when drilling in very deep waters, where Plans B and C take weeks or months to implement.

While the ecological disaster that environmentalists, scientists, and even governors forecast or fear has yet to materialize or be uncovered as the oil slicks remain mainly offshore, serious economic consequences are already realized. Fishing has been closed down. Markets for seafood become depressed, affecting a far greater area. And, people are cancelling their vacations along the coast of Florida.

The effects of the Deepwater Horizon blowout on future U.S. offshore oil and gas development and energy policy are yet to be fully determined, but public awareness and political reactions to this point indicate they will be substantial. The Deepwater Horizon blowout took place just two years after British Petroleum's successful bid to lease the
tract from the U.S. Minerals Management Service. MMS had planned to conduct a lease sale for an area off Virginia in as soon as two years. That probably will and should be delayed.

Earlier I commented here that expanded offshore production would not significantly reduce dependence on foreign oil and that we should be redoubling our efforts to get off oil. I hope for Earth's sake, that the winds will blow Congress out of its long-winded debate, as Tom Toles aptly captured in his cartoon, toward the direction of passage of comprehensive energy legislation that will accomplish this redoubling of effort.

By Donald F. Boesch  |  May 6, 2010; 9:05 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Lower risks, don't eliminate them | Next: Socializing risk and privatizing profit?


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The New York Times reported that in private meetings between BP and Congress the Oil spill could actually be 10 times the current estimate of 210,000 gallong (5,000 barrels) a day.

Require Drillers to be Insured for Worst case Scenario ($50~100 Billion to start from the looks of this accident). If they cannot get insurance the way you are doing business now, or because they are using Halliburton Cost cutting low quality Cementing, then they shouldn't be in our waters.

The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund supported by industry fees should be raised from $1 Billion to $50 Billion.
Current Drillers should be subject to new Insurance and Safety Regulation requirements.

Drill-Baby-Drill Politicians defeated Safety Regulations Requiring Secondary Relief Wells, Remote Acoustic Triggers for Shut Off Valves, corrosion resistant Carbon Fiber Reinforced pipes, and High Quality Cement Sealing requirements; many of which are standard safety requirements in Canada, Brazil, and Norway.

We must develop Alternatives to Oil and Coal and Create Jobs in other Industries for the benefit of our Economy and National Security. Using 25% of the Worlds Oil while only owning 3% only benefits Oil Industry gouging of the public while Gulf Coast Drillers enjoy both Public Subsidies and Tax exempt status as they pay their royalties then sell the Oil on the Open market.

The Coal and Oil industries are stifling the creation of American Jobs and the deployment of American Innovation, Efficiency and Technology. The true costs for Coal and Oil are currently being paid by Health, Environmental and Military expenditures as well as limiting new Job creation and the multitude of benefits to our Economy and National Security that comes with that.

In 2009 The United States used 17 Million Barrels/day, produced 5.1 million barrels/day domestically, and imported 12.4 million barrels/day (over 60 percent), of which 6 Million Barrels/day come from the Middle East (OPEC). Our dependence on Oil is funding terrorist organizations and reliance on Coal is Poisoning our Communities and Water .
We currently use 25% of the world’s Oil while we have only 3% of it.

No amount of domestic drilling will adjust that number even a percentage point or have any effect on the price of Oil on world markets.

What will have the greatest effect is using a Lot Less of it and; Ending Wall Street Energy speculation; Improving Transportation Efficiency; Producing Domestic Biofuels; and Developing Freight Rail (such as along the I-81 corridor).

An Oil and Coal Industry funded Feed-In-Tariff for Wind, Solar and Biomass, a strong Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard of 25% by 2025, Pricing Large Scale Carbon Pollution and Decoupling Energy Utility earnings from increased Sales are the most effective tools for attracting new Energy Jobs and Investment.

These actions provide the greatest Bang-for-the-Buck and Job Creation without sacrificing other Multi-Billion dollar industries and White Sand beaches.

Posted by: liveride | May 9, 2010 3:50 PM
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