How Every Step of the Drilling Process Harms Our Oceans

It’s likely an image of some kind pops into your head when you hear the words “offshore drilling.” Many of us think about oil spills first, but there are several steps to the drilling process which affect the ecosystems onsite. Writing for Popular Science, Sara Kiley Watson explored these implications in “Future offshore drilling could wreak havoc on deep sea ecosystems.”

In 2018, when this article was written, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke had announced that more than 90% of the outer continental shelf in federal offshore areas is available for drilling. Watson noted that “Offshore drilling is way more than sucking up oil through pipes,” as the process consists of three steps (as discussed by Mohammed Gabr, a professor of civil engineering at North Carolina State University). Those steps are investigation of the drill site, boring exploratory wells, and then laying the pipe. “All of these steps come with risks for deep-sea ecosystems.” Deep sea oil exploration can affect ecosystems with elements like sonar, dispersants, temperature changes, and pH.

Then there’s the risk of spills. Watson references Abel Valdivia from the Center for Biological Diversity who researched a risk “based on the anticipated oil production for each planning area using historical spill rates, a total of more than 5,000 new oil spills, ranging from small spills to entire platform spills. This would amount to almost 820,000 barrels of oil throughout 2019 to 2024, based on the potential oil production of 22 key planning areas in the U.S.”

Lawrence Cahoon, a professor of marine biology at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, affirmed that “Going to a clean beach is an ecosystem service, fishery production is an ecosystem service…When you factor all those things in inclusively, I suspect we’d be better off leaving that stuff alone.”

The fundamental question comes down to our tolerance for this type of damage to the ecosystem.

Do you live near the ocean? Does that affect your understanding of the issue or your concern? For those of us keeping tabs on how pollution and environmental disruption affect all of human, animal, and plant life, offshore drilling is worthy of our consideration.

Reality Changing Observations:

1. Do we want to have clean shores, wildlife, a biodiverse ecosystem? What are you willing to sacrifice to bring that to fruition?

2. What are your personal beliefs on our need to be stewards of our environment?

3. How can you become a better steward our your local environment?

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