Throughout history, the world has seen many environmental disasters as a result of our thirst for crude oil. The transportation of oil has caused some huge environmental problems: the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Alaska, 1989, an estimated 11 million gallons of oil spilled; the Mega-Borg Tanker Oil Spill in Galveston, TX, 1990, an estimated 5 million gallons spilled; and most recently the BP Oil Spill off of the coast of Louisiana, where an estimated 172 million to 180 million gallons of oil were spilled directly affecting everyone and everything living in our Gulf of Mexico. These are some of the worst oil spills in American history, and unfortunately they are worst of many.
Because of the various difficulties that deep water offshore drilling causes such as its potential environmental harm, health risk it causes its workers and the flawed regulation system, more should be done to find alternatives to oil and better regulate and eventually end offshore drilling. Gulf Coast oilrig workers spend months at a time working on these oilrigs located dozens of miles off the shores of the Gulf Coast.
Although these low-skilled workers earn decent salaries ranging from $50,000 to $80,000, the health risk these workers face could explain why so few people apply for this job. Kayla Webley of the Time describes the working conditions of oilrig workers. These workers face strenuous twelve-hour shifts, handle highly poisonous chemicals, operate dangerous machinery all while working on tall structures in windy, stormy conditions. As a result, serious or even fatal accidents are highly probable to happen on these rigs.
The Minerals Management Service reported 39 fires and explosions in he first five months of 2009 (Webley, 1). Although none of the accidents resulted in death, numerous workers have been injured because of these accidents. Health problems caused from short term and long term exposure to crude oil is distressing as well. An article by Dr. Eric M. Riles states the common effects of acute exposure to crude oil including: headaches, throat irritation, and respiratory symptoms as well as dizziness and eye irritation.
The article goes on to state that few studies have been done on oilrig workers but of the few it was discovered that exposure to crude oil over long periods of time can cause upper and lower respiratory tract symptoms. Prolonged exposure to crude oil has also been linked to the development of severe emphysema as well as liver, kidney, intestinal, adrenal and bone marrow abnormalities. It is commonly argued that oil companies provide many low skilled workers with high paying jobs. However, these workers could just as easily be put to work on geothermal or solar power plants, promoting green energy and providing them safer working conditions.
Besides being dangerous to its workers, offshore oil drilling is dangerous to the environment as well. In a publication by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, it was discovered that deep water offshore oil drilling destroys marshlands, such as those off the coast of Louisiana. These marshes protect the people of the Gulf Coast from hurricanes, like the devastating hurricane Katrina. Marshlands provide a natural barrier for these states against the unpredictable and possibly threatening waves of the Gulf, but now these marshlands are less able to do so.
The environment also suffers from negative effects of offshore drilling. Before drilling even occurs, the process used by oil companies to find oil patches disrupt the bionetworks of the Gulf. According an article by Robin Nixon of Live Science, when researchers are looking for potential oil reserves, they send seismic waves into the ground. These waves are meant to read the topography of an area and hint at where oil may be found. However, Richard Charter, a government relations consultant for the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, states that these seismic waves disorient whales, which can lead to massive beachings (Nixon 1).
According to Andy Radford, an advisor at the petroleum institute of America, ExxonMobil was forced to halt some oil exploration just recently due to over 100 whales beaching themselves in the area the company had been sending seismic waves (Nixon 1). The Gulf of Mexico sees dozens of hurricanes and tropical storms each year. During Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, nine million gallons of oil were dumped into the Gulf (Kessler 1).
According to the Minerals Management Service, Hurricane Rita destroyed 46 platforms and damaged 20 others, while Hurricane Katrina destroyed 69 platforms and damaged 32 others (Kessler 1). Although these are extreme examples, this region is notorious for hurricanes and strong winds during the summer months. Oilrigs located in the hurricane prone are oil spills waiting to happen.
The oil spills caused by tanker accidents, hurricanes, or the leakage of pipes transports oil from rigs back to the shore adversely affect the ecosystems of the Gulf. In a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, oil causes harm to wildlife through physical contact, ingestion, inhalation and absorption. These spills can contaminate plankton, food the fish of the Gulf. This contaminates the entire food chain of the Gulf. Contaminates from oil spills do not only effect the ecosystem, but the economy of the Gulf as well. Cities like New Orleans face hard economic repercussions when oil spills occur.
As a city known for its top notch seafood cuisine, the thought of contaminated seafood can scare off potential tourist. In an area still trying to recover from Katrina, oil spills can further damage New Orleans’s economy. Oil spills occur terrifyingly often. Spills aren’t always as publicized as the BP debacle, but they all have the same negative environmental impact, although generally on a smaller scale.
Considering their consequences, the US Mineral Management Services state that the annual total of oil spills has increased from an average of four spills per year of 50 barrels or more in the 1990s to more than 20 per year from 2000 to 2009, USA Today recently reported. As we now all know, when oil spills, it spews until stopped and stopping them can take days, weeks, or even months.
The easiest way to combat oil spills is preventing them from happening, which companies only supposedly attempt to do. Too often, the government services that are suppose to oversee these offshore drilling operations are bribed into allowing oil rigs to pass safety inspection by corrupt oil giants. In a 2010 article by CNN, the Mineral Management Service, a federal agency that oversees leases and regulation of natural gas and oil, has been caught accepting gifts and money from the oil industry, the same industry they were supposed to be regulating. This all goes to show that oil drilling is risky, and its consequences can’t or won’t be controlled.
A business so risky can in no way be what is best for the United States. As a result of the corrupted system, the Mineral Management Service was reformed into the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Unfortunately, new name does not exactly mean new policies. An article by the New York Times found that many of the same people working for the Mineral Management service now work for the “brand new” Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (Broder 1).
Many of these problems could be avoided if America made a switch to greener energy. Some alternative energy sources include geothermal, solar, wind and hydroelectric. Renewable energy is defined as energy sources that can sustain its consumption rate. Unlike more conventional resources such as coal and fossil fuels, the energy we gather from below the Earth’s surface is practically unlimited according to an article by Energy Informative. Geothermal energy can be used for a variety of purposes such as heating and electricity.
Making the switch to geothermal energy could provide oilrig workers safer jobs. This new industry would require many workers for building geothermal power plants and exploratory wells for homes across America. This is just one of many alternatives to the dangers that come with our abusive relationship with oil.
Although no energy comes with zero consequences, the consequences of other sources of energy are lower than that of crude oil. We have seen the results of our addiction to oil, yet we continue to use the same processes to find oil. Einstein defines insanity as trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If we hope to have a bright future for future generations, we must put more effort into changing to more efficient energy sources that do not cause as much damage to the enviornement.
Works Cited Broder, John M., and Clifford Krauss. "Regulation of Offshore Rigs Is a Work in Progress." NyTimes.com. New York Times, 17 Apr. 2010. Web. 25 Nov. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/us/politics/17regulate.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all>. "Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement: MMS Gets A Name Change." HuffingtonPost.com. Huffington Post, 25 May 2012. Web. 6 Dec. 2011. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/29/bureau-of-ocean-energy-ma_n_629916.html>. "Effects of Oil Spills on Wildlife and Habitat." Alaska.fws.gov. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://alaska.fws.gov/media/unalaska/Oil%20Spill%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf>. Gardner, Sean. "Worth the Risk? Debate on Offshore Drilling Heats up - USATODAY.com." USATODAY.com. USA Today, 14 July 2008. Web. 09 Nov. 2011.