The High Costs of Offshore Drilling

Deepwater Horizon Underscores Need to Find Sustainable Energy Solutions

The Deepwater Horizon disaster shows the high costs that our oil addiction has on human life, the environment, and the economy, writes Daniel J. Weiss.

A dead sea turtle lies on the beach in Pass Christian, Mississippi, one of a number that have washed up since the oil spill. (AP/Dave Martin)
A dead sea turtle lies on the beach in Pass Christian, Mississippi, one of a number that have washed up since the oil spill. (AP/Dave Martin)

The BP Deepwater Horizon explosion is fast becoming the most horrific environmental disaster in U.S. history. The explosion on the offshore drilling station in the Gulf of Mexico has killed 11 oil rig workers, sunk the rig, pumped millions of gallons of oil into the surrounding water, and devastated the area’s wildlife. The Exxon Valdez spill contaminated 1,300 miles of shoreline in Alaska, and this flood of oil in the Gulf of Mexico could be far worse—particularly if the spill reaches the more than 9,000 miles of surrounding shoreline in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. There is no question that the cleanup will cost billions of dollars and many in the tourist and fishing industries will likely lose their jobs.

oil spills at a glanceWe need to learn from this tragedy. Offshore drilling is a risky way to meet our energy needs. We have only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, yet we use one-quarter of the oil produced annually. It is a dangerous practice that puts American lives and livelihoods at risk while distracting from real solutions that can provide clean energy while creating jobs.

The Center for American Progress has for years been outlining the dangers of offshore drilling. It does not make sense for the United States to expand investments in a practice that will not bring in significantly more oil, lower prices, or provide long-term solutions to our energy crisis all while putting American lives and the environment at risk. For more information, see: “Ten Reasons Not to Expand Offshore Drilling.”

The fact is that our dependence on oil is not sustainable. We cannot produce enough oil domestically to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. And one in five barrels of U.S. oil come from countries that the State Department considers to be “dangerous or unstable.” For more information, see: “Oil Dependence Is a Dangerous Habit.

This is all while Big Oil companies make big profits on oil production that threatens our economy and environment. The big five oil companies—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell—made over $800 billion in profits over the past decade. And American taxpayers shell out $3 billion annually for tax loopholes that benefit these companies. These unnecessary handouts must end.

The BP oil disaster will put additional upward pressure on oil prices that were already climbing as global demand for oil increases dramatically over the next two decades. The United States cannot produce its way out of the supply-demand gap. The most cost-effective, speedy way to reduce our oil dependence is not offshore drilling—it is reducing U.S. oil demand.

The Center for American Progress recently outlined three primary methods to reduce oil use in “Quenching Our Thirst for Oil”:

  • Making vehicles significantly more fuel efficient while commercializing electric vehicles
  • Developing cleaner, alternative non-oil-based fuels such as advanced biofuels and natural gas
  • Investing in public transportation to provide practical, accessible, economical alternatives to driving

The Obama administration has already taken steps in each of these areas, but as the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster shows, we need to move quickly to move away from dirty oil. Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are drafting comprehensive clean energy and global warming legislation that must include provisions that dramatically cut oil use and provide additional protection from future offshore oil disasters. The United States needs comprehensive clean energy and climate policies to decrease our dependence on this expensive and unstable commodity. The costs to human life, the economy, and our environment are just too high.

For more information, see:

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Daniel J. Weiss

Senior Fellow