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Pollution and Environment Essay – Offshore Drillin

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.

Works Cited

Burger, Joanna.Before and After an Oil Spill.New Jersey:

Rutger University Press, 1994.

Cairns, John Jr., and Arthur L.Buikema, JrRestoration of

Habitats Imported By Oil Spills.Boston:Butterworth Publishers, 1984.

Laudon, Robert C. “Petroleum.” Gas and ELectric 8 July

1992: 330-350.

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