In a previous column which touched on energy policy in general and domestic oil drilling in particular, a point was brought up in comments.

Since the oil companies have failed to develop the oil and gas leases they already hold, and because many of those are easier than offshore drilling, and because oil companies lost dozens of oil platforms in the last few hurricanes, and because those losses polluted the Gulf coastline causing ugly, toxic and expensive problems, pushing for offshore drilling is actually a pretty stupid policy proposal that could well cost McCain Florida.

These are common complaints regarding domestic oil production and I see them frequently. How do we gage these concerns? The first one seems to be a no brainer, and in fact I agree. If there are unused, potentially productive leases, we deserve some answers as to why they aren’t already being devloped, particularly if they are “easier” than accessing reserves under the ocean.

Did we lose dozens of oil platforms in the last few hurricanes? Actually, that’s putting it mildly. According to the government’s Mineral Management Service, we lost a combined total of 113 platforms to Katrina and Rita which were listed as being “destroyed” with quite a few more “damaged.” This was in addition to 457 pipelines damaged, with 101 of them being “large” pipelines. (Defined as ones which are 10″ in diameter or greater.) But to keep this in perspective, what were we to expect? That’s why they call it a natural disaster. Two major hurricanes crashed through the area in a short period of time, and that tends to break things. I can’t even recall how many homes were destroyed in the hurricanes. Shall we stop building houses?

Yes, I understand that it’s not a perfect comparison, as the environmental impact from losing an oil platform is different, larger and more spectacular than losing a house, right? So let’s take a look at that next point – did this damage result in massive spillage of oil causing “ugly, toxic and expensive problems” along the coast? Again, this from the MMS on the extent of the spills.

A South Florida Sun Sentinel Op-Ed of February 12, 2007, states that it is “less than genuine” to write that the Gulf did not experience substantial oil spills during the recent devastating hurricane season. The Op-Ed was titled “No ‘substantial’ spills after Katrina? Not quite accurate.”

The fact is, by using U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) official standards as a guide the statement is not only true, it is remarkable, especially given the intensity and destruction of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

They go on to list some fairly remarkable numbers. There were a total of 125 reported incidents of oil spillage from rigs, platforms and pipelines. “Those spills did not occur due to loss of control of the producing wells.” The MMS defines a “major spill” as one where 2,381 or more barrels of oil are lost. None of the incidents qualifed as a “major spill” and in fact, a grand total of only 16,302 barrels were lost from those 125 spills. On top of that, the oil that was lost didn’t come from equipment failures in the rigs. As per the report, “Oil losses were mostly limited to the oil stored on platforms that were damaged or oil contained in individual segments of pipelines that were damaged.”

I will concede that among the lessons learned from the hurrices is that we may want to revisit regulations regarding offshore platforms in terms of how much oils can be “stored” on them at any given time and how secure such storage is. Losing any oil into the ocean is certainly undesirable, but how much of a spill was that in reality?

According to a report on “Oil in the Sea” from the National Academy of Sciences (1995), far more oil enters the ocean from natural, underwater seeps than from offshore production platforms. In fact, the seeps introduce about 1700 barrels of oil a day into U.S. marine waters, which is about 150 times the amount from oil and gas activities.

The last portion of the argument speculates that McCain’s position on domestic oil production may hurt him in Florida. As I’ve said in the past, Floridians traditionally maintained a fairly unified front against offshore drilling, based largely on concerns over potential impacts on tourism and environmental dangers. But when gas hit four dollars a gallon, the tune began to change rapidly. If it hits five dollars, they’ll be loading up rowboats with pick axes and heading out to sea themselves. This may explain why the most recent poll of polls shows McCain enjoying an average lead in the sunshine state.

What frustrates me the most over this debate is when my green oriented friends (and I do consider them friends and allies) who are pushing for renewable energy, treat any mention of domestic oil production or nuclear power as the ultimate evil. Believe it or not, we’re all on the same team! We want clean, renewable energy as a permanent, long term solution too! But we’re not there yet, and frankly, we’d like to keep the lights on and the heat available until we do get there. You won’t find me fighting against any source of clean, green energy. The more the better and sooner rather than later. I look forward to the day when we need absolutely zero fossil fuels to power our nation, but until we get that fully developed and implemented, we still need energy. Oil production and nuclear energy are things we have the ability to do now.

And I don’t oppose reducing demand. I’m doing my part! I’ve replaced all my bulbs with CFBs. I’ve hunted down and shut off every vampire drain in the house. My wife and I both work at home and our car now barely leaves the house three times per week.

Everyone who supports domestic drilling and nuclear as medium term solutions to bridge this gap are not a bunch of cigar chomping Daddy Warbucks figures, praying for a China Syndrome meltdown to draw attention away from the fact that we’re clubbing polar bears to death with the corpses of dead baby harp seals while we munch on a bucket of spotted owl fritters. We’re all actually heading in the same direction toward a common goal. We just have a few differences of opinion on how to get there.

JAZZ SHAW, Assistant Editor
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Neocon
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Neocon
8 years 2 months ago
Nice post Jazz. I am starting see hints by the more moderate Left who see the need to drill because they have an open mind and realize that a trillion more wind farms aint gonna get you to work in the next could years. Some of the more moderate Green Dreams types realize that electric cars are a long way from a reliable reality given a $30,000 dollar price tag. Some of the more moderate Green types believe that oil is a short term solution but not a long term solution. Most of the right believe that as well. Some… Read more »
DLS
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DLS
8 years 2 months ago
Ricorun
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Ricorun
8 years 2 months ago
Perhaps it’s worthwhile to ask the following: 1. Why are the areas currently covered by the federal moratorium covered? Are they environmentally sensitive? 2. How do they differ from areas that are already available but not explored? 3. How messy is drilling a new well? Also, according to the EIA, opening up all of the OCS and ANWR will take many years to tap. By law, the leasing process will take 5 years. Assuming the equipment is available, exploration and development will take another 5 years or more. And even then it’s not likely to have an appreciable effect on… Read more »
Jazz
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8 years 2 months ago
Ricorun, I can agree with all of that in principle. Where we have truly sensitive environmental areas, of course we’d want to steer clear. And oversight should be in place to make sure that improved exploration technology (which is supposed to be far safer and more environmentally sensitive) really fills the bill in those areas. But in terms of “it will take too long” I still think, if you don’t start, you’ll never finish. We may need that oil even more in five or ten years. If we don’t, we can always stop any new drilling and sell off what… Read more »
Ricorun
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Ricorun
8 years 2 months ago
Jazz: But in terms of “it will take too long” I still think, if you don’t start, you’ll never finish. We may need that oil even more in five or ten years. If we don’t, we can always stop any new drilling and sell off what excess we have. I don’t think there’s any way we’ll cure our addiction to oil in 10, or even 20 years. Certainly not the entire world. So I agree that the “it will take too long” argument is specious. On the other hand, so is the “drill here, drill now, pay less” argument. By… Read more »
Jazz
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8 years 2 months ago

It’s ok. It only took about a minute to do a search on the main page to find the article you were referencing. Thanks for pointing us to that resource!

runasim
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runasim
8 years 2 months ago
It’s a mistake to separate related issues, like McCain does. It helps him politically, no doubt, but it hurts us as a nation. Energy, the environment , conservation and climate change, as well as the economy as a whole, are all related and intertwined, and if we do the smart and most economical (in the long term) thing, we’ll consider them all at once. The aim shouldn’t be to lower gas prices per se; that’s a short term view. The airm should be to tackle all these problems for the long term. and to see how solving one problem can… Read more »
runasim
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runasim
8 years 2 months ago

“in terms of “it will take too long” I still think, if you don’t start, you’ll never finish”

As I said, an uxiiallary question is: if we start drilling, what are we neglecting to start? We are talking tax breaks and subsidies here. None of these efforts are done by charitable organizations or outfits willing to undertake much risk without pretty certain guarantee of profit.

Rambie
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Rambie
8 years 2 months ago
Jazz I know you and I see 99% eye-to-eye on this. I’m not against opening new areas after we find out why they aren’t drilling where they already have leases now, if it can be done in an environmentally safe way and investments into alternative energy is made. I like the idea of a “use ’em or loose ’em” policy on leases so we can sell leases to another company if there is demand. Nuclear, it is pretty safe why some people meltdown over the thought I don’t know. Newer plan designs from Europe, who’ve expanded use of nuclear reactors,… Read more »
Rambie
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Rambie
8 years 2 months ago
This takes us back to the candidates and how they’ll respond. McCain seems to be pandering more than anything and is continuously playing the, “drill here, drill now, pay less” game that Ricorun put so well. He’s plans just sound like more psychological measure *cough* Phil Gramm *cough* than real solid energy policy He’s running on his “experience” so let’s look at it. I asked before, he’s got decades in the Senate, what has been his voting record on energy policy? How is his past different than his current stand and why? Obama is sounding more realistic about it for… Read more »
Amanda
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Amanda
8 years 2 months ago

Rambie, you answered your own question regarding nuclear energy. People don’t want it because we don’t have a reliable, safe way to store the waste. If someone figured out a way to break down the nuclear waste, recycle it, clean it up, whatever needs to happen to make it safe, I would support building more nuclear plants. As it stands now, we don’t have the capability to do it which makes nuclear power a non-option in my book.

DLS
Guest
DLS
8 years 2 months ago
“People don’t want it because we don’t have a reliable, safe way to store the waste. ” We have one. The opposition to nuclear power is 100% political. The waste is safer than waste from other forms of power production and much less than, for example, waste from coal. This has been known for a long time. I suggest this as a place for Amanda and other users to start. http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/ Transport of waste is subject to NIMBYism and you are aware that most objection is to the waste and that (along with the high initial costs of construction, as… Read more »
DLS
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DLS
8 years 2 months ago

“But let’s try to be realistic about what it will and won’t do.”

It’s not a magic solution any more than conservation, or instant alternative energy sources, or stem cell magic, etc.

DLS
Guest
DLS
8 years 2 months ago
1. Open all known good reserves, or compromise by opening only the top reserves, to drilling. 2. Fusion is way off and strangely, you don’t hear Obama or many others wanting research into this. Hmmm. 3. There are new designs that are inherently safer than older designs (which are safer energy generators than other means; nuclear safety has always been a big source of hysteria and delusion — see below for delusional behavior as well as a link or two to modern designs, which are simpler, often smaller, definitely better). mothersforpeace.org/resources/maps/chernobylAppliedToDiablo/view http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/nuclear/page/analysis/nucenviss2.html http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-licensing/design-cert.html 4. Chris-WWW already noted elsewhere that the… Read more »
Neocon
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Neocon
8 years 2 months ago
When people want to add drilling to the menu, it has to be understood what alternative investment it will replace in the budget. and in time and how that will affect everything else on the table. Oil just can’t be the princess served by Cinderellas anymore like it has been so far, not if we want to have a future. Ahh at last I understand the resistance to drilling. We have to regulate it and finance it. The government has to have its finger in the pie. Without the government doing everything from sonograms to mud analysis and then telling… Read more »
Jazz
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8 years 2 months ago

I was a HUGE fan of fusion, and even did some work with the New Jersey plant when I worked for IBM Astro Electronics in the 80’s. But it’s just been so long and we don’t seem to be that much closer to pushing very far past the break even point… I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep trying, but at least for now, it just seems like we need another major breakthrough before fusion is on the horizon as a viable energy source. Love to see it if it happens.

Rambie
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Rambie
8 years 2 months ago

Jazz, I agree, Fusion is years away and does need more research and investment. It’s better than fission plants but they are here now and not as dangerous as some make it out to be.

Breaking our oil habit isn’t going to be easy, sorry Neocon, and there will be some pain. The point is to minimize the pain while investing into other energy sources for our future. There is not going to be one magic bullet that solves it all.

jwest
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jwest
8 years 2 months ago
The price of new nuclear plants has yet to receive a fair evaluation. Back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s when all the U.S. plants were built, every facility was planned and built like a prototype. No computers (to speak of), CAD software, etc. When you needed to machine one of the hundreds of flanges, you needed a leather apron clad machinist with 30 years experience. Today, if a commitment was made to build 800 new plants, they could be built to one design. The components would be a fraction of what their predecessors were, and the completion time could be… Read more »
Ricorun
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Ricorun
8 years 2 months ago
jwest, all of the reactors I am aware of that have so far been proposed in the US are of the AP-1000 design — two in Florida, two in Texas, two in Georgia, and two in North/South Carolina. There may be others I’m not aware of with other designs, but that seems to be the preferred one. They’re popular in France and China, too. You can’t get more cookie-cutter. But they’re still expensive. A short article discussing costs (with links for further reading) can be can be found here. And from this… “Consider an index of coal, gas, wind, and… Read more »
GreenDreams
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8 years 2 months ago
I guess this entire thread and the post it accompanies was started by my comment to another of Jazz’s fine posts. I feel somehow negligent that I was otherwise engaged yesterday and have not contributed to the discussion. Jazz, I’ll grant that there were no “major spills” from the lost platforms. We were lucky. But you have to admit, that’s a lot of expensive equipment lost, cleanup cost (to salvage and re-establish the platforms, if in fact they do) and lost production. There is nothing comparable with land-based pumping. Even huge storms and floods cannot cause this kind of disruption… Read more »
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