Sunday, August 3, 2008

Facts Blast Gulf Oil Myth: Hey Guys, It Just Ain't There

We should have seen it coming: the economy overrun with speculators and middlemen, consumers bingeing on carbon-spewing SUV's and coal-fired electricity, unregulated corporations and oil companies staking out territory based the primacy of fossil fuels, and then the price of oil goes up, consumers slow down that feverish pace of more-more-more-burn-burn, and suddenly, BAM! You've got politicians on their knees, promising to make everything like it was again, promising to bring back our beloved cheap oil, we'll drill the gulf and never import again starting NOW! And we all know it's a cheap, snivelling, skanky lie, but we don't know JUST HOW BIG A LIE it is...

We know it'll take time. But there's a sense of desperation. We know it might not work and will cost a lot of money. But isn't it better than nothing?

Why do people still trust the GOP? Politicians know nothing about oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet they feed us this new mythology: WE MUST DRILL NOW OR DIE a slow, carbon-starved, dollar-shriveling death because LIBERALS DON'T CARE and want us to be RUN BY OIL SHEIKHS and DEPENDENT ON ARAB ISLAMIC AND HUGO CHAVEZ IMPORTED OIL. It's not that anyone trusts the GOP. It's that they're easily made AFRAID of the environmentalist-codepink-hippie-gay-unamerican-womenslib-quotapushing-softoncrime-peacenik-unpatriotic - some wavy, horror-move music, please - Democrats.

But what people don't know is that THE OIL JUST ISN'T THERE. The Gulf of Mexico has oil, yes, but not the save-us-from-the-foreigners kind of oil. Ask a geologist.

Yes, why not ask the experts, the petroleum geologists, the people in the field who actually do the exploration and know the potential that exists in the Gulf of Mexico before hyperventilating over it? One expert, for example, is Klaus H. Gohrbandt, who holds a doctorate degree in geology and is an independent, certified petroleum geologist and who says that
while there is oil and natural gas still to be found in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, it is not sufficient to solve our energy problems.

The Gulf is his area of expertise in the field, and he has no agenda for or against oil exploration there. His input is simply practical, scientific, and factual. Something we could use more of in the hoopla-driven era where every dilettante politician - and aren't all politicians in some way necessarily dilettantes? - wants to gain votes for his side this election season by assuaging the electorate's fear and anger about oil prices?

Drilling in the Gulf appears to be an easy fix. But the truth is: it's not. Not at all.

First, it would be too expensive and take too long. According to Time magazine,
...even if tomorrow we opened up every square mile of the outer continental shelf to offshore rigs, even if we drilled the entire state of Alaska and pulled new refineries out of thin air, the impact on gas prices would be minimal and delayed at best. A 2004 study by the government's Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that drilling in ANWR would trim the price of gas by 3.5 cents a gallon by 2027.

So much for the immediate savings. But it wouldn't even do that.
"Right now the price of oil is set on the global market," says Kevin Lindemer, executive managing director of the energy markets group for the research firm Global Insight. President Bush's move "would not have an impact."

And that's presuming there's any appreciable amount of oil. But is there? Mr. Gohrbandt weighs in on this:
The bottom line is that discovery of huge amounts of oil or natural gas in currently unexplored areas of the central and northern Gulf is very unlikely, because the geology doesn't support it.

There might be significant amounts of oil off South Florida, but it is heavy oil that is very difficult to clean up if a spill occurs.

He discusses each area dispassionately, some having potential, others having been explored with only minimal success (such as the "Destin Dome" where only 4 attempts out of 15 drills discovered any oil at all), and yet others off limits for political or environmental reasons, such as the areas off South Florida where such drilling would basically decimate the fragile coastal areas such as that of the Florida Keys. He concludes:
Unfortunately, our political elite exhibits ignorance of the petroleum setting in the region, and makes related unqualified statements and decisions.

Yet his assessment is not simply that doing so would "destroy the planet", as many argue - an argument that never seems to matter to Republicans - but that it won't be enough to make any difference. Time's article would agree, asserting that such drilling would do no good:
The reason is simple: the U.S. has an estimated 3% of global petroleum reserves but consumes 24% of the world's oil. Offshore territories and public lands like ANWR that don't allow drilling may contain up to 75 billion barrels of oil, according to the EIA. That may sound like a lot, but it's not enough to make a significant difference in a world where global oil demand is expected to rise 30% by 2030, to nearly 120 million barrels a day. At best, greatly expanding domestic drilling might eventually lower the proportion of oil the U.S. imports — currently about 60% of its total supply — but petroleum is a global commodity, and the world market would soak up any additional American production. "This is a drop in the bucket," says Gernot Wagner, an economist with the Environmental Defense Fund.

Way back in 2006,before the price of oil went way up, even in an overhyped optimistic NYT piece, the assessment held a cautionary tale:
Even after hitting pay dirt, it will take another decade and billions of dollars to transform oil from these ultra-deep reserves into gasoline. Some of the technology to pump the sludge from these depths, at these pressures and temperatures, has not yet been developed; only about a dozen ships can drill wells that deep, and no one knows for sure how much oil is down there.

While most people regard affordable and abundant supplies as an essential element of the nation’s prosperity, few realize how complex and costly the quest has become, even in the nation’s own backyard. At the same time, some experts argue that the industry is nearing the limits of what it can do to maintain a growing supply of fossil fuels.

And yet here we are in 2008, with Republicans making their Last Carbon Stand to Save America - as if America means carbon dependency. After all, the issue is no longer foreign dependency. Our world is already irreversably globally interdependent. (Think China allies separately with the United Sales of WalMart.) The issue now is carbon dependency. Obama, stick to your original guns. Pelosi, don't be a pushover. Both of you have better minds than that. People, tell your congress to think beyond the election and stop belittling the minds of Americans by assuming they only love outright pandering. We the People need more leadership out of the carbon hole we're drilling for ourselves. Stop lying to get lucrative contracts to your corporate/industry donors. Tell the truth. There ain't no cure-all, no economic snake-oil, in the Gulf of Mexico.

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