Pollution and Environment Essay - Offshore Drilling

Pollution and Environment Essay - Offshore Drilling
Petroleum seepages, in some form or another have been around since ancient times for boat caulking, road mending, and as medicine, however, the modern petroleum industry was truly born with the first drilled oil well in August 1859 by Edwin L. Drake at Titusville, PA. (Laudon, 347) At first, in the United States, oil production was controlled by small operators but by the late 1870?s John D. Rockfeller had purchased most of the nation?s refineries-controlling the United States industry. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1911 split Rockfeller?s Standard Oil Trust into three smaller companies; today they are known as Mobil, Chevron, and Exxon. (Lynch, 214) Since that time, oil has become a major part of everyone?s way of life. Oil is used to provide fuel for automobiles, tractors, trucks, aircraft and ships. Petroleum products are the basic materials used for the manufacture of synthetic fibers for clothing and in plastics, paints, fertilizers, insecticides, soaps, and synthetic rubber etc? (Lynch, 207) Due to this demand, companies are constantly searching for more oil deposits.
Today the petroleum companies have progressed so much that they are able to drill offshore. The reason that we drill offshore is because approximately one third of the world?s oil resides in offshore fields. (Lynch, 213) There are many ways to drill oil from the ocean floor.

The most common way is to construct a steel drilling platform on the ocean floor. Other ways are, first a jack-up rig which is used in waters of up to 200 feet. The rig rests on a floating platform attached to steel legs that can be jacked up or down. It is moved by workers lowering the platform into the water and jacking up the legs off the ocean floor. Generally, boats tow the rig to the new drilling site. There the legs are lowered to the ocean floor, and the floating platform is jacked up clear of the waters surface. Second, a semisubmersible rig which is used in intermediate water depths (up to 4000 feet). This type of rig has legs filled with air , enabling it to float above the surface of the ocean. Anchors hold the rig in place. Third, drillships are used in water depths of up to 8,000 feet. Anchors cannot be used at such depths so a drillship must use precise, computered navigational procedures to maintain its position above the well site. The derrick and other drilling equipment are mounted on the deck, and the drill pipe is lowered through an opening in the bottom of the ship. Drillships are extremely expensive to operate. (Laudon, 340-341) Fourth, a sub-sea satellite platform, where all of the necessary equipment is located on the ocean bed at the well site. (Lynch, 209-210) Using these four different types of offshore drilling platforms, can contaminate the marine life that inhabits the surrounding waters. The oil companies argue that natural seepage from cracks in the ocean floor are what make up a large percentage of the contamination. For example, in the Santa Barbara Channel, twenty oil and gas seeps have been recorded between Point Conception, and Coal Oil Point. Tar particles have also been reported on bottom sediments throughout the study area. These natural seepages of oil from cracks in the ground have proven to be a principal source of petroleum on the sediment. The natural seepage in this area, off the coast of Santa Barbara in the Point Arguello Vacinity, is so great that reports of fouled fishing gear and sightings of actual oil slicks have been seen in the waters and on the beaches. (Steinhauer et al. 78) An analysis of drilling fluids, and cuttings discharged in the southern Santa Maria Basin, offshore California, indicates that the amount of metal and hydrocarbon contaminants from drilling operations is small relative to that from natural sources. (Steinhauer et al. 74) From the environmentalists point of view any oil that contaminates the marine life and water, that is unnatural is considered dangerous. Therefore, there are strict regulations from the National Pollution Discharge Elimination Systems (Npdes). This group presents permits to oil companies who pass their criteria as a safe platform. The Npdes realizes that a variety of solid and liquid wastes are generated during drilling and production. Therefore, they allow discharge of some wastes such as deck washdowns and sanitary wastes because these contaminants are relatively minor discharges that continue throughout the life of a platform. (Steinhauer et al. 81) The wastes that are of environmental concern occur during drilling operations. These wastes consist of large amo unts of drilling fluids and cuttings that are discharged into the ocean. (Steinhauer et al. 82)

These drilling fluids and cuttings deposit metals and petroleum hydrocarbons which are considered to be unbenificiary to the marine life. In the specific cases of the platforms Hidalgo, Harvest, and Hermosa located off the shore of Santa Barbara a Phase 3 program will continue to monitor epifauna near the Point Arguello Field for the next three years. A Phase 3 program is a group of scientists who devote their time to laboratory and field studies designed to resolve issues of natural population change in hard bottom communities, and run studies to determine the toxicity of drilling fluids to indigenous species of marine animals. (Steinhauer et al. 90) The total effects on the environment from offshore drilling are not yet known although they are of wide concern. (Steinhauer et al. 90) Despite what the oil companies want us to know the truth is that oil spills into the ocean are detrimental to the environments well-being. One of the most well known tankers to spill into the domestic waters was the Exxon Valdez, where a quarter of a million barrels was lost in Alaskan coastal waters. (Lynch, 215)

Oil is a hydrocarbon, therefore it is theoretically biodegradable, however when large spills are dumped into concentrated areas, the ecosystem looses its ability to break down the oil. Over a period of time the lighter portions of the crude oil evaporate, leaving the heavy, tarlike portion. The tarlike portion breaks down the protective waxes and oils in the feathers and furs of birds and animals, resulting in a loss of heat retention causing death by freezing. (Cairns, 110) The ingestion of the oil also can kill the animal by interfering with their ability to digest food. Some crude oil even contains toxic metals which can poison the animals and birds. (Burger, 78)

Petroleum, like other minerals, cannot be replaced after it has been used. People are using more and more petroleum each year, and some skeptics say that the world?s supply is running out. They claim that if present rates of consumption continue petroleum may become scarce sometime in the mid twentieth-century. (Lynch, 215) To prevent a full scale energy shortage, scientists are experimenting with artificial forms of oil and with other sources of fuel. They fear that even if new energy sources appear quickly, people will have to rely on petroleum for many years. (Laudon, 330) Although, others believe that substantial amounts of oil and gas remain to be found and that unconventional sources will eventually be exploited. (Lynch, 215) The unconventional sources include methane dissolved in subsurface waters; which will possibly provide an immense source of natural gas. Another potential source of oil includes the extraction of oil from tar sands and oil shales (which contains billions of barrels of fuel). Tar sands (bituminous sands) are sands soaked with an oil-producing substance. These deposits, which are estimated to contain up to a trillion barrels of oil, lie along the Athabasca River in Alberta.

Production of oil from the sands began in 1967. In time oil shale may help increase the United States oil reserves. It is plentifully found in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. It contains kerogen, a waxy substance that yields oil when heated. (Laudon, 333-334) One last unconventional source of fuel is the liquefaction and gasification of coal. So far all attempts to utilize these sources have proved to be uneconomic compared to costs of producing oil and natural gas. An increased use of methanol and ethanol is being promoted for environmental reasons, but major uncertainties about both their economics and their emissions remains. Future technologies may find ways of creating viable fuels from these various substances however, due to its much lower emissions and greater abundance natural gas is being advocated as the alternative to oil in the future. (Lynch, 215) However, natural gas has a few negative aspects. Before World War II its use was limited by the difficulty in transporting it over long distances. In fact, frequently the gas found in oil fields was frequently burned off and the gas found in fields without oil was usually abondoned. After the war, new steel alloys permitted the laying of large-diameter pipes for gas transport. This made it at least possible to transport some natural gas. The problem that still remains is the fact that because of its lower density natural gas is much more expensive to ship than crude oil . Most natural gas moves by pipeline, but in the late 1960s tanker shipment of cryogenically liquefied natural gas (lnc) began. Special alloys are required to prevent the tanks from becoming brittle at the low temperatures (-258 F) required to keep the gas liquid. The main problem with natural gas is the great expense it takes to ship it.

The likelihood that offshore drilling will remain viable in todays society appears to be positive. From ancient to present times oil has been and continues to be a major part of everyones life. Since one third of all oil on earth is contained on the ocean floor, offshore drilling is a necessary way to obtain this large quantity of oil. The effects on the marine environment are a very controversial subject.

The oil companies believe that the pollution is mainly from natural oil seepage. However, the environmentalists believe that the extra contamination to the marine waters through offshore drilling is very dangerous. I believe it is true that offshore drilling can be very contaminating to the oceans environment, however when closely monitored these negative effects can be minimized. Since we know that one day our oil supply will deminish we are concerned about future ways to maintain energy. The most common alternative to oil is natural gas.

Although, even natural gas has its negative and positive aspects. The main negative aspect is the fact that transportation of natural gas is very expensive. The main positive aspect is that, when burned, natural gas gives off lower emissions to our environment oil. In the future, due to its great abundance, I am sure that offshore drilling will remain viable to our society for many years to come.

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