April 28, 2009
Offshore Oil Drilling: An Environmental Bonanza
On Earth Day, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis wanted to make Obama's energy policy perfectly clear:
"If we are going to create clean energy industry jobs in this country," they write in a widely syndicated op-ed, "break the stranglehold that foreign oil has on our economy and punish the polluters who are devastating our natural resources, then we've got to be honest about the difficult tasks and tough choices ahead. It's going to mean telling the special interests that their days of dictating energy policy in this country are over."
Indeed, and we can start with groups like the Sierra Club.
"Environmentalists" wake up in the middle of the night sweating and whimpering about offshore oil platforms only because they've never seen what's under them. Louisiana produces almost 30 per cent of America's commercial fisheries. Only Alaska (ten times the size of the Bayou state) produces slightly more. So obviously, Louisiana's coastal waters are immensely rich and prolific in seafood.
These same coastal waters contain 3,200 of the roughly 3,700 offshore production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. These oil production platforms off the Bayou state's coasts also extract 80 percent of the oil and 72 percent of the natural gas produced in the Continental U.S., without causing a single major oil spill in half a century of this process. This record stands despite dozens of hurricanes -- including the two most destructive in North American history, Camille and Katrina -- repeatedly battering the drilling and production structures. So for those interested in evidence over hysterics, by simply looking bayou-ward, a lesson in the "environmental perils" of offshore oil drilling presents itself very clearly.
Fashionable Florida, on the other hand, which zealously prohibits offshore oil drilling, had its gorgeous "Emerald Coast" panhandle beaches soiled by an ugly oil spill in 1976. This spill, as almost all oil spills, resulted from the transportation of oil -- not from the extraction of oil.
Assuming such as Hugo Chavez deign to keep selling us oil, we'll need increasingly more and we'll need to keep transporting it stateside -- typically to refineries in Louisiana and Texas. This path takes those tankers (as the one in 1976) smack in front of Florida's panhandle beaches. Recall the Valdez, the Cadiz, the Argo Merchant. These were all tanker spills.
The production of oil is relatively clean and safe. Again, it's the transportation that presents the greatest risk. And even these spills (though hyped hysterically as environmental catastrophes) always play out as minor blips, those pictures of oil-soaked seagulls notwithstanding. To the horror and anguish of professional greenies, Alaska's Prince William Sound recovered completely. More birds get fried by landing on power lines and smashed to pulp against picture windows in one week than perished from three decades of oil spills.
For fear of oil spills, as of 2009, the U.S. Federal government and various states ban drilling in thousands upon thousands of square miles off the U.S. Coast. These areas, primarily on the Outer Continental Shelf, hold an estimated 115 billion barrels of oil and 633 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This leaves America 's energy needs increasingly at the mercy of foreign autocrats, despots and maniacs. All the while worldwide demand for oil ratchets ever and ever upward.
The proliferation of marine life around oil production platforms turned on its head every "environmental expert" opinion of its day. The original plan, mandated by federal environmental "experts" back in the late '40s, was to remove the big, ugly, polluting, environmentally hazardous contraptions as soon as they stopped producing. Fine, said the oil companies.
About 15 years ago some wells played out off Louisiana and the oil companies tried to comply. Their ears are still ringing from the clamor fishermen put up. Turns out those platforms are going nowhere, and by popular demand of those with a bigger stake in the marine environment than any "environmentalist." Every "environmental" superstition against these structures was turned on its head.
Marine life had exploded around these huge artificial reefs: A study by LSU's Sea Grant college shows that 85 percent of Louisiana fishing trips involve fishing around these platforms. The same study shows 50 times more marine life around an oil production platform than in the surrounding Gulf bottoms. An environmental study (by apparently honest scientists) revealed that urban runoff and treated sewage dump 12 times the amount of petroleum into the Gulf than those thousands of oil production platforms. And oil seeping naturally through the ocean floor into the Gulf, where it dissipates over time, accounts for 7 times the amount spilled by rigs and pipelines in any given year.
The Flower Garden coral reefs lie off the Louisiana-Texas border. Unlike any of the Florida Keys reefs, they're surrounded by dozens of offshore oil platforms. These have been pumping away for the past 50 years. Yet according to G.P. Schmahl, a Federal biologist who worked for decades in both places, "The Flower Gardens are much healthier, more pristine than anything in the Florida Keys. It was a surprise to me," he admits. "And I think it's a surprise to most people."
"A key measure of the health of a reef is the amount of area taken up by coral," according to a report by Steve Gittings, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's science coordinator for marine sanctuaries. "Louisiana's Flower Garden boasts nearly 50 percent coral cover. In the Florida Keys it can run as little as 5 percent."
Mark Ferrulo, a Florida "environmental activist" uses the very example of Louisiana for his anti-offshore drilling campaign, calling Louisiana's coast "the nation's toilet." Florida's fishing fleet must love fishing in toilets, and her restaurants serving what's in them. Most of the red snapper you eat in Florida restaurants are caught around Louisiana's oil platforms. We see the Florida-registered boats tied up to them constantly. Sometimes us locals can barely squeeze in.
In 1986 Louisiana started the Rigs to Reef program, a cooperative effort by oil companies, the feds and the state. This program literally pays the oil companies to keep the platforms in the Gulf. Now some platforms are simply cut off at the bottom and toppled over as artificial reefs; over 60 have been toppled thus far.
A few years back, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries officials were invited to Australia to help them with a similar program. Think about it: here's Australia, the nation with the Great Barrier Reef, the world's biggest natural reef, the world's top dive destination -- they're asking help from "the nation's toilet" about developing exciting dive sites by using the very structures that epitomize (in greenie eyes) environmental disaster.
Amongst the greenie scoffers of the environmental bonanza described above were some The Travel Channel producers, fashionably greenish in their views. They read these claims in a book titled "The Helldiver's Rodeo." The book described an undersea panorama that (if true) could make an interesting show for the network, they concluded, while still scoffing.
They scoffed as we rode in from the airport. They scoffed over raw oysters, grilled redfish and seafood gumbo that night. More scoffing through the Hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's. They scoffed even while suiting up in dive gear and checking the as we tied up to an oil platform 20 miles in the Gulf.
But they came out of the water bug-eyed and indeed produced and broadcast a program showcasing a panorama that turned on its head every environmental superstition against offshore oil drilling. Schools of fish filled the water column from top to bottom -- from 6-inch blennies to 12-foot sharks. Fish by the thousands. Fish by the ton.
The cameras were going crazy. Do I focus on the shoals of barracuda? Or that cloud of jacks? On the immense schools of snapper below, or on the fleet of tarpon above? How 'bout this - WHOOOAA - hammerhead!
We had some close-ups, too, of coral and sponges, the very things disappearing off Florida's (that bans offshore oil drilling) pampered reefs. Off Louisiana, they sprout in colorful profusion from the huge steel beams -- acres of them. You'd never guess this was part of that unsightly structure above.
The panorama of marine life around an offshore oil platform staggers anyone who puts on goggles and takes a peek, even (especially!) the most worldly scuba divers. Here's a video peek at this seafood bonanza: America desperately needs more domestic oil. In the process of producing it, we'd also get dynamite fishing, dynamite diving, and a cheaper tab for broiled red snapper with shrimp topping.
If a picture's worth a thousand words of proof, then this video should be worth ten million.
Humberto Fontova is the author of four books including Exposing the Real Che Guevara. Visit hfontova.com.