Dispelling myths about offshore energy
March 23, 2018
By H. Sterling Burnett
A new paper by physicist John Droz, founder of the Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions, puts the lie to ten myths environmental activists have promoted over the decades to prevent offshore oil and gas development.
President Donald Trump reversed a proposal of the Barack Obama administration to remove federal waters in the Atlantic Ocean from potential seismic testing and oil and gas leasing. On January 4, 2018, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) announced a revised National Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Leasing Program, proposing 47 lease sales in 25 planning areas, including nine in the Atlantic Region.
Before any oil and gas exploration or production can commence, the government, taxpayers, and oil and gas companies must have a better understanding of how much oil and gas might be available and what it would cost to develop it. This requires a comprehensive geological seismic survey of the Atlantic OCS, which has not been done in almost 40 years. Environmentalists claim seismic surveying will result in serious ecological damage, including harm to whales and other marine life, yet the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the agency charged with, among other things, protecting marine species, has concluded seismic surveying poses no significant threat to marine life. In 2014, during the Obama administration, NMFS stated, “To date, there is no evidence that serious injury, death, or stranding by marine mammals can occur from exposure to air-gun pulses, even in the case of large air-gun arrays.”
Droz notes a 2014 report from the chief environmental officer of DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management came to the same conclusion. More recently, in 2017, The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory actually conducted a seismic survey off the coast of North Carolina to map plate tectonics, using the same type of ships and equipment oil and gas mapping would require. Environmentalists did not protest this seismic survey, even though it covered a larger area than any testing for oil and gas off the coast of North Carolina would and it sent signals deeper into the ocean bed. A study by the National Science Foundation concluded the survey caused no consequential harm to the ocean’s wildlife or the ecosystem.
Two related arguments environmentalists raise against OCS production are it will necessarily produce oil spills that will damage oceans and beaches and, as a result, harm tourism. Droz disposes of these claims quickly and definitively. Despite a few high-profile spills, including most recently the Deepwater Horizon, offshore oil and gas production is actually extremely safe, with spills being the rare exception, not the rule, Droz notes. There are hundreds of producing OCS lease areas containing thousands of operating wells, many of which have been operating safely for decades. As Droz writes, “The number of oil spills from all sources and the volumes of oil involved have fallen considerably decade by decade in the past 30 years, in spite of the 40 million barrels per day increase in world oil output and consumption that occurred over the same time.”
The huge costs in terms of lost revenue, oil reserves, stock value, bad public relations, and fines and civil and criminal penalties attached to spills ensure most operators keep mishaps to a minimum. In addition, improved procedures and technologies, plus new rules implemented by both the Obama administration and the Trump administration since the Deepwater Horizon blowout, make OCS production safer than ever before.
Oil spills are exceedingly rare, and most OCS platforms are well beyond the sight of shore, making OCS production no threat to tourism industries. With most drilling taking place more than 40 miles from the coast, distance and prevailing ocean currents would prevent oil from almost any spill from reaching shore. In addition, on those rare occasions when spills have occurred in the past and oil reached beaches, none of the resulting harms were permanent. Tourism and local fishing industries recovered quickly after such spills, and the jobs created and revenues generated in the long term from oil and gas production far exceed the temporary loss in revenue from tourism and fishing from the rare spill.
Droz also exposes the falsity of environmentalists’ claims the world doesn’t need oil and gas because transportation and electric power systems can be operated using only renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. Droz points out renewable energy sources can’t supply baseload power to maintain the electric grid nor to power the world’s motor vehicle fleet, which is why the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports “renewables together currently provide about 5% of our country’s Total Primary Energy Requirements (TPER). Wind and solar alone, provide less than 3% of the U.S. TPER, and less than 1% of global TPER.” Both EIA and the International Energy Agency predict fossil fuels will still make up more than 80 percent of the world’s primary energy base in 2050.