Sunday, September 7, 2008

Reduce Oil 'Pollution' - Drill

To give everyone a break from campaign politics, this discussion on how drilling for oil actually reduces water 'pollution' might prove of some interest.

I put 'pollution' in scare quotes because to call anything that occurs without human intervention in the environment pollution is a bit silly. Even to call things that are artificially produced (like CO2) that are also produced naturally (in much larger quantity) pollution is questionable.

I make a point of it not to be pedantic about words. (Though, since I make my living with them I give myself some slack on that score.) No, it's because I find that people aren't paying nearly enough attention to what they mean these days.

That's why, to choose a recent and ongoing political example, it's wrong for conservatives to call their counterparts 'liberals'. There is nothing liberal about socialism, regardless of any of its contemporary disguises. If the label were correct we would have no idea how to classify men like Locke and Jefferson, and a host of others.

Darn, and I said we were going to get a break from talk about politics. On to the talk about oil and the environment.

Oil slicks in the ocean are a common occurrence. According to the NOAA:
One of the best-known areas where this happens is Coal Oil Point along the California Coast near Santa Barbara. An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of crude oil is released naturally from the ocean bottom every day just a few miles offshore from this beach.
I no longer have the reference, but this isn't a recent phenomenon, either. There are entries in Magellan's notebooks from 500 years ago noting oil slicks on the surface of the water in the Santa Barbara Channel. (The story may be apocryphal, based on this map. Nevertheless, there is no dispute that oil seeps have been there a long time.)

The US Geological Survey maintains a website referencing many other natural seeps, as they call them.

The amounts are not trivial, either. The National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences states,
[N]atural oil seeps contribute the highest amount of oil to the marine environment, accounting for 46 per cent of the annual load to the world's oceans.
So, what to do? Drill. Drill for oil. Often, and everywhere it is profitable.
Earlier this year, University of California geophysics professor Bruce Luyendyk spoke to a citizens’ town hall forum at Santa Barbara . He told citizens that the oil mucking up Santa Barbara beaches was due to seeps, not spills. According to Luyendyk, the amount of oil escaping naturally from just one set of seeps in the Santa Barbara channel is equal to about 42 thousand gallons a day -- equal to an Exxon Valdez-size oil spill every 5 or 6 years.

Oil isn't the only thing seeping either. About 3 million cubic feet of natural gas escape each day from the ocean floor off the California Coast. By comparison, your average home uses between 200 and 300 cubic feet per day.

This is oil and gas we could be capturing and using. Instead, it's going to waste and polluting beaches in the process.

The sheer size of the seepage has led to the formation of a new environmental group, called SOS California — which stands for Stop Oil Seeps. The group wants to lift the offshore drilling ban not to generate oil, but to reduce oil pollution from seepage. They point to university studies which demonstrate that extracting oil through drilling reduces reservoir pressure. That, in turn, reduces seepage. SOS advocates lifting the drilling ban for just that reason — to reduce oil pollution on local beaches.
I question the author's description of the people referenced as an environmental group, but I suppose it is conceivable that one or two actually want to clean up the environment, rather than just coercively curtail productive activity.

Oops... there I go talking politics again.

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