Thu 3 Jun 2010
In spite of the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, we need to redouble our efforts to exploit the oil reserves located in our coastal waters, beneath the ocean floor. But this effort comes with a caveat and a philosophy. The caveat is that we cannot force petroleum exploration into places where only the foolhardy or desperate would go, especially for purely political reasons. The philosophy part of the equation is that we have extensive exploration and drilling experience in shallow waters along the coast. We need to exploit this experience and exploit the reserves that presently go untapped because of excessive government restrictions.
If we are blunt and honest about our modern lives we are forced to admit that our dependence on fossil fuels is not going to diminish as a result of political speeches with lofty rhetoric. At the present time there are no viable alternatives to petroleum, and gasoline in particular, that combine the energy per pound or gallon along with the convenience of the material. For example, there are electric vehicles that can mimic the performance of gasoline powered vehicles under a narrow set of conditions. But when all is said and done, when the fuel (coulombs of charge) runs out, there is the need for a not-so-insignificant wait period before the vehicle may be used again. This is the key disadvantage of such alternative energy-based vehicles.
But just focusing on transportation ignores all the other valuable uses that petroleum products play in our daily lives, from chemicals to pharmaceuticals to plastics to electricity generation. In short, we are highly dependent upon petroleum and petroleum-derived products in our modern lives. Without them, we would be leading dreary 17th century existences.
So, to me, the government taking the approach of ‘retreat at first crisis’ is counterproductive and narrow-minded. It is a situation where the government has become so risk-averse that it threatens the very future existence and productivity of our nation. Having said this I feel that the Gulf oil leak is a tragedy of epic proportions. There are millions of lives that will be disrupted, livelihoods that will be ruined and countless miles of pristine shoreline that will be scarred for a long, long time. And then there is the cost to the wildlife in the area. How many creatures will suffer and die due to the effects of the entrapping oil? It is heartbreaking and it is frustrating.
But let’s not forget what got us to this disaster in the first place. It was government regulations and restrictions that forced oil exploration and recovery into deeper waters. Just on first analysis it is counter intuitive to encourage oil exploration into deeper water without a proven, reliable and foolproof fail-safe method of preventing such leakages from occurring. This one simple qualification should have been the key to allowing drilling to commence, and should have been the government’s job one. Alas, it wasn’t — just the push to stay away from the shoreline for whatever political reasons. But in life, isn’t hindsight always 20/20??
So now we have a full-blown disaster on our hands. And rather than step back and analyze the root cause of the disaster as a nation, we are taking the easy and expedient path towards a ‘solution.’ We are making a hasty retreat. But history has taught us time and time again, that for every great risk, there is a great reward. But we ned to be acutely aware that associated with every risk is the corresponding disaster that may occur. This is the course of human learning and understanding. Humans (usually) learn from their mistakes, and many of the improvements and advancements to our lives have been accompanied by disasters, and the incremental improvements from this knowledge. In the past, did we experience disaster or failure and quit? Did we abandon our national interests in favor of sniveling political expediency? Did the nations of the world abandon sea travel because of the Titanic disaster? When so many brave men were killed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day during WWII, did we retreat? Did the US abandon space travel after the dual space shuttle disaster — when the ships Challenger and Columbia evaporated before our eyes?
We grieved the dead, took full measure of the consequences and sought a better way to do things. We took our collective lumps, fixed the problems, re-calibrated our techniques and moved forward. We didn’t retreat — we thought our way out of the problem, and we survived despite the failures and he disasters. Unfortunately, the real world and life are like that.
From here on, before we do any further deep water oil recovery, we need to have a well-thought out method of capping a deep water well if the unthinkable happens, like the explosion and destruction of the Deep Water Horizon oil rig. Isn’t this the most important thing we’ve learned from this tragedy of events? And we desperately need to re-think the manner in which the government ‘regulates’ and ‘restricts’ oil exploration and recovery. Rather than being a tool of political gainsay, the restrictions should focus on safety and economy. Not on cosmetic or NIMBY reasons. We’re presently living through the failings of this flawed thinking.
Until that day happens, then we must substitute shallow water drilling for its highly risky (as we’ve all become oh-so-aware) deep water counterpart. If we are to prosper as a nation and as a people, we need petroleum and petroleum products.
We need to drill baby, drill!