Friday, April 17, 2009

Offshore drilling on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, an Interior Department hearing, held in San Francisco, April 16, 2009

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In the waning days of the Bush Administration they released a draft Continental Shelf 5-year program meant to cover 2010-2015. The current program runs from 2007-2012 and it's curious that there's an overlap. The overlap means that the Bush Administration sped up the 5-year planning process by a couple years. Under the normal schedule the next 5-year plan would have covered the years 2012-2017. To support putting the new plan together the Department of the Interior is holding a series of public hearings, and the following is based on the San Francisco hearing on April 16, 2009.

At stake is oil and gas drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf. You may recall a slogan in the 2008 Presidential Election was "Drill Baby Drill, Drill Here, Drill Now" as if drilling for more oil is what will solve the energy woes faced by the U.S. The U.S. is importing nearly 70% of the oil we use and of course the money spent on that oil undermines the U.S. economy (balance of trade), and is a national security matter (the oil rich countries have power over the U.S.). The Conservative Republican answer is to drill for oil. However anybody who's looked at the data realizes there is very little oil involved, and that it will take decades before the oil can come to market.

It's clear the attendees were overwhelmingly taking a different attitude about the problem. Over and over the presenters and question askers gave a different strategy than "Drill Now, Drill Here". Instead they overwhelmingly opposed drilling for new oil, and advocated instead use of renewable energy. Rather than spend the money on oil drilling rigs etc, spend the money on new technologies.

It's clear that a big event in their mind is the Santa Barbara oil spill in the 1960's. That oil spill put an image in everybody's mind of spoiled beaches, dead birds, etc. FWIW The attendees were overwhelmingly Californians.

The NIMBY aspect of this strikes me. California cities are overwhelmingly designed around the use of CARS and TRUCKS to move around the cities. Overwhelmingly those vehicles require fossil fuels to move around. Hence that oil has to come from somewhere and to deny the possibility of drilling for oil off the California coast means pushing the oil infrastructure fueling California's cars is conducted in someone else's back yard.

At least most of them advocated tying a shift to renewable energy resources combined with a ban on further oil drilling. Tying the two together is more honest than simply denying further oil drilling. However for the most part renewable energy resources are not in the forum of liquid fuels, but in the form of electricity. To continue supporting transportation systems through a renewable fuel is going to mean electrically driven transportation.

Some data presented.. while big oil spills are thankfully rare, there are small spills all the time. It's estimated there are 2 million gallons per year of small oil spills.

Offshore drilling comes with higher risk of disasters. The further offshore the bigger the risk. Off the Pacific coast the oil fields thought to exist are in deep water, and there are doubts over the possibility to safely drill in those deep waters. Further oil drilling causes the release of mercury and other contaminants, simply from the drilling platform.

One of the proposed locations is in an ocean upwelling zone off the Northern California Coast. Upwelling zones are vital places of abundant sea life where upward ocean currents carry nutrients to the surface feeding an abundant array of life. Allowing oil drilling to occur in that upwelling zone would convert it into a dead zone.

A draft proposal has been produced by the government outlining the plan: Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program 2010–2015

Offshore drilling on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, an Interior Department hearing, held in San Francisco, April 16, 2009

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