Analysis: U.S. call to drill off all coasts, economic and ecological folly?

A 1926 picture of oil drilling at Huntington Beach California, makes clear what can happen when fossil fuel production goes completely unregulated. California has substantial oil reserves offshore, as do many U.S. coastal states. Photo courtesy of Orange County Archives

90 billion barrels of recoverable oil, plus 327 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie untapped offshore on the U.S. continental shelf. In January, the Trump administration ordered that the entire coast, in the Pacific, Atlantic, Gulf, and Arctic, be opened to drilling.

Environmentalists and the coastal states fear oil spills that could devastate tourism. They also are concerned about the massive infrastructure (pipelines, terminals, refineries, pumping stations and more) that would be needed to support the industry.

The executive branch has moved forward with efficiency to create a surge in U.S. oil and gas production: the Interior and Energy departments, and the Environmental Protection Agency have all worked to slash regulations and open additional lands and seas to oil and gas exploration, with the plan of achieving U.S. “energy dominance” around the globe.

Most coastal states are resisting the federal oil and gas offshore drilling plan; Florida has already been exempted, while other states are likely to fight back with lawsuits. The irony is that a flood of new U.S. oil could glut the market and drive prices down, resulting in an economic disaster for the industry.

For generations the U.S. oil and gas industry has dreamed of the forbidden deep. For hundreds of miles along all four American coasts – the Atlantic, Gulf, Arctic, and Pacific – the continental shelf slopes gradually downward until it falls away abruptly, into the abyssal depths. Beneath that shelf’s sediments lie riches.

According to estimates by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Management there are 90 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable oil plus 327 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas down there – a potential fortune in petro profits, and a climatologist’s worst nightmare. 03-14-18

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