Offshore drilling often sparks a heated debate. Many environmentalists would view this form of oil abstraction as particularly harmful to the marine environment: the images of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico come to mind; the water ablaze in orange, a large plume of smoke billowing into the sky.
While criticism surrounds the oil industry, there is no questioning that America relies heavily on oil. We use an average of 19.4 million barrels a day, for everything from filling our cars to heating our homes (U.S. Energy Information Administration). Even the plastics we use, from food wrappers to medical supplies, are petroleum based.
Offshore drilling is the process of extracting oil from beneath the oceans’ surface. An oil platform has both the facilities to drill and also house workers. Once extracted, the oil is kept on the platform, where it will be later moved to shore for refinement and dispersion.
Working on an oil platform has often been viewed as one of Americas’ most dangerous professions, due to the long work hours and highly combustible materials on the platform. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect for these workers is that due to the rigs' remote locations, emergency services are often miles away.
Offshore drilling also presents a risk to the marine environment. If the rig explodes, oil will spill uncapped until the problem can be fixed. At the Deepwater Horizon rig, oil and methane gas flowed into the ocean for 87 days straight, spilling 4.2 million barrels.
However, the Deepwater Horizon incident has actually been an eye opener for the oil and gas industry. The industry is committed to developing new technologies and new procedures to make offshore drilling safer for its workers and for the environment. The industry has been working to prevent spills from occurring and improve response times as well as conducting regular drills to test their response to disaster.
It has been seven years since the Deepwater Horizon incident and the Gulf of Mexico is showing signs of healing. Research is still being conducted to assess the full impact of the spill on the marine and coastal environments. The oil and gas industry’s commitment to preventing spills and improving response time will aid the ecosystem’s speedy recovery.
While oil and gas companies are taking steps to decrease their environmental impact, perhaps their most valuable contribution lies in their backing of clean energy. In the May 2016 Bloomberg article, “Big Oil Unexpectedly Backing Newest Non-Fossil Fuels”, author Joe Ryan states, “As crude prices struggle to recover and growth projections for renewables soar, oil companies see a chance to diversify.” The industry is branching out beyond ethanol and other biofuels into solar and wind energy.
The process of phasing out oil use and switching to alternative clean sources of energy will not happen overnight, but it is a transformation that seems possible in the near future. Clean energy combined with the efforts taken by the oil and gas industry to mitigate their environmental impact will help to keep our marine environments clean and functioning.