Offshore Oil Drilling - A Controversial Subject

Oil. Black gold. Crude. That's what it's all about.

Offshore oil drilling has received much attention since as early as the late 1800s when oilmen noticed that the best producing wells were nearest the ocean.

Since the gusher at Spindletop, fortunes have been won and lost and lives changed because of oil.  The quality of our lives have been permanently pegged to crude oil prices.

New technologies and innovations, such as advances made in directional drilling, have spurred offshore drilling.  Today, almost 30% of our nation's domestic oil production and 13% of natural gas production comes from the Gulf of Mexico.

A Futuristic Energy, is it a reality?

Skip to: Offshore Drilling Not Without Cost
Skip to: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Skip to: Who has the oil?
Skip to: Offshore Oil Drilling Vs. Alternative Energy
Skip to: Give your opinion on the issues in this article.

Related pages: Peak Energy

Spindletop Gusher

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, estimates that certain areas off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts contain 14.3 billion barrels of oil and 55 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

More than 242,000 jobs nationwide are supported by offshore drilling.

Offshore Drilling Vs. Land Based Drilling

Offshore drilling shares the same concept as land based drilling but requires different equipment and personnel.

Because these oil rigs are placed offshore in an environment much more harsh, different types of oil rigs are used.

One type is the platform rig - a stationary offshore oil or gas production facility.

Another type is the jack-up rig. These rigs can be moved and are self-elevating. These offshore drilling rigs are equipped with legs that can be lowered to the ocean floor until a foundation is established.

Inland barge rigs are used to drill in shallower depths and for well workover. These oil rigs are self-contained, mobile, drilling/workover rigs.

Offshore drilling rigs are like a small community including a cafeteria, laundry facilities, sleeping quarters and management facilities.

Employees of offshore oil drilling usually receive a higher salary than land-based employees.

The costs of offshore oil drilling are high. For example, oil companies can employ a land based oil rig for $10,000 to $20,000 per day, but an offshore oil rig costs $200,000 per day or more.

Drilling Techniques

The craft of offshore oil drilling is, in concept, no different from land based drilling. Offshore drilling employs directional drilling and attention is paid to BHA.

The same type of rock drill bits are used in offshore oil drilling as land-based drilling - button bits, tooth bits and pdc bits.

Because of the extremely high costs of offshore oil production, oil companies demand that all rock drill bits be of the highest quality. Making an unnecessary bit trip is unacceptable. For this reason, rock bit manufacturers employ the best button bit design engineers and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in research and development of pdc cutters.

Offshore Oil Drilling Not Without Cost

The BP oil spill on April 20, 2010, caused a firestorm of political and public opinion. This oil spill invoked an offshore oil drilling moratorium by President Barak Obama until further investigation could be made into the environmental effects of offshore oil drilling.

The following video of the oil rig fire in the Gulf was provided courtesy of the US Coast Guard.

President Obama's decision polarized an already divided country that was deep in a recession. While environmentalists favored the moratorium, working class citizens directly affected by the oil spill did not.

Oil covered bird from BP Oil Spill

However, working class citizens weren't the only victims of the BP oil spill, as the picture to the right demonstrates.

According to Earth Justice, the BP oil spill continues to smother coral formation, infect the food chain, layer the ocean floor with tarry deposits, and affect life forms in ways that can only be estimated.

If these claims are true, our oceans could be in danger.

Is there any other oil spill in history that we can compare this oil spill to and draw logical conclusions from?

There certainly is - the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Although not a direct result of offshore oil drilling, the Exxon Valdez oil spill is now the second largest on record. This oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989.

Prince William Sound was a pristine ecosystem supporting a diversity of wildlife, providing abundant harvests of herring, salmon, crab, shrimp and halibut.

That is, until 1992.

In 1992, herring and pin salmon populations showed a dramatic decline. This decline continued until 1995. The population decline affected so many fishermen that, in 1993, a group of fishermen blockaded all oil tanker traffic to and from the Valdez oil terminal. This blockade lasted for three days.

Map of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Twenty years later, herring populations still have not recovered, and fishermen are still feeling the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound.

According to a New York Times 2009 article, federal researchers estimate 16,000 gallons of oil remain buried in areas hit hardest by the oil spill.

In addition to herring, sea otters, killer whales and clams are still considered "recovering" for the environmental disaster.

In 2003, studies showed that some beaches in Prince William Sound were still feeling the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and wouldn't experience recovery for another 30 years.

What happened to cause such an environmental disaster?

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker was headed for Long Beach, CA, when it struck Bligh Reef. The captain, Joseph Hazelwood, had been reportedly drinking just prior to the ship sailing.

The final guilty verdict spread the blame around a bit. At fault was human error, including lack of sleep for crewmembers, and faulty equipment that Exxon deemed too expensive to fix.

The figure of 11 million gallons of spilled crude oil is the generally accepted size of the oil spill. This figure is accepted by Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. However, some environmental groups, such as Defenders of Wildlife, dispute the claim. They claim the 11 million gallons to be erroneous and that the oil spill was much larger.

Because of disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, many environment groups, such as Greenpeace, advocate the use of alternative energy, or renewable energy sources and oppose offshore oil drilling as well as the use of tar sands and oil shale.

However, these solutions are not without their own set of problems.

The Flip Side of the Coin

As is always the case, there's two sides to every story.

Without oil, life as we know it would cease. How would our lives be affected if all drilling ceased? Would our lives continue as normal?

What if oil drilling were simply scaled back by 40 or 50%? Or, what if we were to run out of accessible oil as Peak Oil Theory contends?

Based on the chart below, World Oil Production and Population, could we expect a proportionate decrease in world population? This would be an Extinction Level Event.

World Oil Production and Population

Is this all true? Just how important is oil and what role does it play in our everyday lives? Consider the following uses for oil:

Uses for Oil

* Plastics
* Gasoline
* Fertilizer
* Pesticides
* Herbicides
* Medicines
* Synthetic Cloth
* Building Materials
* Refrigeration Fuel
* Asphalt for Roads
* Production of Tires
* Transport of Goods to Market

Most people don't realize the extent oil plays in our every day lives. For instance, did you know that seven gallons of oil is needed to manufacture one tire?

US oil production has steadily declined since about 1985, but offshore oil drilling production has been steadily on the rise. In fact, offshore oil drilling now accounts for a third of our total field production.

With oil being so vital to human survival, it's fitting to ask, "Who has the oil?"

Who Has The Oil?

Nation Billions
of barrels
% of World

Saudi Arabia 262.73 22.3%
Iran 132.46 11.2%
Iraq 115.00 9.7%
Kuwait 99.00 8.4%
United Arab Emirates 97.80 8.3%
Venezuela 77.22 6.5%
Russia 72.27 6.1%
Kazakhstan 39.62 3.4%
Libya 39.12 3.3%
Nigeria 35.25 3.0%
United States 21.37 1.8%
China 17.07 1.4%
Canada 16.80 1.4%
Qatar 15.20 1.3%



Strait of Hormuz

To further complicate matters, in this year, 2012, Iran has threatened to block off the Strait of Hormuz in response to US and European sanctions.

The Strait of Hormuz is located between Oman and Iran, connecting the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.

It represents the world's most important oil chokepoint as almost 17 million barrels of oil per day flowed through this channel in 2011.

It is estimated that one third of all oil imports flows through the Strait of Hormuz on a daily basis and is the only access channel for eight countries to foreign markets.

Offshore Oil Drilling Vs. Alternative Energy

In view of all the above-stated problems, a real case can be made for alternative energy, including geothermal, solar and wind energy and bio-fuels. Many environmental groups, such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, are advocates of alternative energy.

According to Greenpeace, Shell Oil Company is getting close to getting the green light to drill for oil in the Arctic. Greenpeace claims that this drilling will put the Arctic wilderness at risk of catastrophic oil spills and will raise temperatures even more.

But what about alternative energy? What does America need to do to actually "get there"?

A lot of our problem lies with infrastructure. Infrastructure is needed to transport and disseminate biofuels, solar and wind energy.

How much more infrastructure do we need before the US can go "green"?

E85 Station Growth

Well, as of January 2011, there were only about 285 flex fuel pumps and 2,401 E85 pumps in the US. (E85 is 85% ethanol and 15% unleaded gasoline) (Flex fuel pumps distribute various blends of ethanol) Even worse, it took nearly 20 years to install these.

On US roads are 7.3 million flex-fuel vehicles, but 3 million owners aren't even aware that their vehicle will run on E85 fuel.

Want to find a blender pump or E85 station? Click here.

Infrastructure and Money

US Dollar

Let's face it. Infrastructure costs money and no one has any right now.

Combine this problem with the decline in purchasing power by the US Dollar AND the possibility of the dollar losing its status as the world's reserve currency, and we've got a recipe for potential disaster.

Oil and Money

So What's the Verdict?

Well, folks, right now oil is money. And big money at that. For that reason, it is this author's opinion that offshore oil drilling will continue.

And, given the alternatives at this time, it probably should continue.


Just imagine, if you can, grocery stores being empty because farmer's lacked the fuel necessary to farm and fertilize massive acres of farmland.

Imagine, if you can, Walmart shelves being empty because the fuel to bring imported goods simply wasn't available.

Imagine, again, our streets being lined with trash because the garbage trucks were out of fuel and could not operate.

This list can go on and on, but you get the picture. And unless the picture changes, no oil would lead to an Extinction Level Event.

Have an opinion or story about this topic?

Has offshore oil drilling impacted your life? Do you have a story to share about the BP or Exxon Valdez oil spills? Are you strongly for or against offshore oil drilling? Share your stories, opinions, and photos with others.

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