To Drill or Not to Drill

The burning and mining of fossil fuels has been a subject of heated debate for many years. People are specifically concerned about drilling and burning here at home. Recent studies show that the United States consumes 21 million barrels a day, adding up to almost 8 billion a year (“Facts about Offshore Drilling”). That is a lot of oil to buy from other countries. We don’t buy all of it, however, because we drill for oil in places like the Gulf of Mexico.

In the Gulf of Mexico alone, oil companies can produce about 1.6 million barrels a day (“Domestic Oil Drilling”). Many people support that our country utilizes the fuel sources of our land by extracting oil from under the seabed. However, others criticize the industry for the disruption oil rigs cause to the Gulf’s ecosystem and the catastrophic effects a potential spill. The main reason people support drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is it produces a lot of energy for the country.

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Every year, 565 million barrels are extracted from the seafloor and sold to Americans (“Facts about Offshore Drilling”). The Gulf is a major hotspot for oil drilling; many drilling projects have taken place or are scheduled to be in the Gulf of Mexico. There have been over two hundred deep water natural gas and oil qualified fields there since 1975. All of these rigs have brought up a lot of oil to be used for energy (“Deepwater Natural Gas and Oil”). There are also ninety drilling projects announced for the future that will provide more oil (“Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Information”). People also support oil drilling because it has become safer over the years due to new technology and regulations.

Since 1975, when drilling began in the Gulf of Mexico, it has had a safety record of 99.999%. This means that out of all of the activity concerning oil happening in the Gulf, only 0.001% was catastrophic. In the 1970s, the amount of oil spilled into the Gulf from accidents and mistakes was 3.

6 million barrels. In the 1990s, it was less than 500,000 (“Effects of Offshore Drilling”). In addition, it takes many people to harvest and refine oil. People are needed to find the oil fields, build the oil rigs, work on the rigs, work on the boats that ship the oil, and work in the plants that refine the oil (“Should the US Expand”). This, along with the previous reasons, is why people can justify it in their minds to support drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite these reasons, many people today do not support drilling for oil at all, especially underwater, like in the Gulf of Mexico.

The fact is, drilling on US territory would not provide enough energy to sustain the country; we would still have to purchase oil from other countries. US produced oil would not lower the cost until 2030, and then it would only be by a couple of cents. A more sensible way to spend the money that goes into drilling would be to would be working on more efficient forms of energy (“Domestic Oil Drilling”). The most obvious reason that people oppose oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is the effects it has on the environment. The process of drilling releases many toxic chemicals into the water, such as mercury, lead, and arsenic (“Effects of Offshore Drilling”).

The seismic surveys that are used to find the oil deposits can travel through the ocean for thousands of miles. These waves can interfere with animals, like dolphins and whales, who use echolocation, as well as other marine mammals. The animals’ reproduction, communication, and migration can be affected by the sound waves (“Should the US Expand”). A big part of the reason that some people feel offshore drilling is bad is the catastrophic oil spills that sometimes happen. In some cases, only relatively small amounts of oil leak into the ocean.

These small leaks happen during shipping, when a boat crashes or sinks. In fact, one third of the world’s oil spills happen during shipping (“Effects of Offshore Drilling”). If one had to choose, this would be the best kind of oil spill because there is only so much oil that can spill. Whereas if it comes directly from the extraction sight, oil can pour out endlessly into the sea. The Mineral Management Service predicts that there will be at least one spill like this, of more than one thousand barrels, every year for the next forty years in the Gulf of Mexico.

They also believe that every three to four years, there will be a spill of no less than ten thousand barrels (“Effects of Offshore Drilling”). These numbers frighten people, especially those who worry about the environment. It is understandable why so many people oppose offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. It is clear, when considering all of the evidence presented, that there are more reasons, that are also more solid, to support the anti-drilling side of this argument. If all of these reasons were not enough, consider some of the tragedies that drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico has caused.

One that most people have heard about is the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. This began when the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, located fifty miles off the coast of Louisiana, exploded, rupturing oil pipelines and killing eleven men in the process. Two days later, the rig sank into the ocean. Oil gushed out of a burst pipeline and into the sea; it continued to do this for months before the well was finally sealed (Shenkman). It is estimated that about 4.

9 million barrels, or about 210 million gallons, came out of the break. This disaster devastated people and animals alike. Animals that lived on the surface of the water, like birds and sea mammals, were the first to be affected due to the fact that oil floats on of water. When the animals were coated in oil, it became very hard for them to breathe and fish for their food. Birds could not fly because their feathers were heavily saturated with oil. Also, the oil negated the water repellency of the feathers, which caused some birds to get hypothermia.

Finally, any animal that accidently ingested the oil would soon die. Of course, many people living on the Gulf coast were affected as well. During, and for some time after the spill, more than eighty thousand square miles of fishing grounds were closed because many animals in the area had become contaminated. This made it very difficult for fishermen to make money and feed their families. Also, tourists stopped visiting the Gulf coast because no one wanted to go play on a beach with black, slimy oil washing up on it.

These states that had once prospered from tourism were hit very hard. It took a few years, and the help of BP and environmental organizations, to clean up the Gulf of Mexico and its coast (“Gulf Oil Spill”). Another good, less widely known, example of the destruction caused by a massive oil spill was the explosion of the Ixtoc I oil rig, which happened in the Gulf in 1979. The outpouring of oil lasted an astounding two hundred ninety days (Van Vleet). An estimated three and a half million barrels, or sixty eight million two hundred fifty thousand gallons, of oil was expelled into the water, costing the company that owned the rig approximately two hundred twenty five million dollars.

This amount of oil is enough to fuel a jet for one hundred twelve trips around the world. But, sadly, instead of being put to use, it simply polluted the ocean for miles around. The largest spread of oil, called an oil slick, reported was sixty miles by seventy miles. Needless to say, this damaged the ecosystem tremendously (“Ixtoc Oil Spill”). Also, the rig as forced to sink after the explosion, which added more debris to the water (Vaan Vleet). These are only two examples of many ruinous oil spills that have happened in the Gulf of Mexico, but they are reason enough to make someone be against drilling for oil there.

While some may argue that the oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico is good for the economy and jobs, the argument against drilling is far superior. It does not benefit the United States in any significant way. Any positives that come from drilling in the Gulf do not outweigh the damages it causes to the environment. The Gulf’s past is horrific enough as it is; we do not need to make it worse by continuing to drill there and creating more and more problems.