Global environmental challenges
Deepwater offshore development remains a vital enterprise
— Dr. Lee Hunt is president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors located in Houston, Texas. Any views expressed here are his own. –
The Gulf of Mexico rig explosion and subsequent oil spill are regrettable in the extreme.
But the fact remains that offshore drilling and production has for more than four decades provided safe and reliable sources of energy vitally needed by our nation.
According to estimates by the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS), yet-to-be-discovered offshore fields could contain 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of gas.
This staggering quantity represents nearly one third of the reserves in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer.
These giant fields constitute about 60 percent of the oil and 40 percent of the natural gas that MMS estimates remain undiscovered within these United States.
Simultaneously, America’s thirst for energy, retarded temporarily by the economic slowdown, shows sharp signs of resurging.
Currently, the USA imports two-thirds of its crude oil, and, as our demand for energy increases, so does our reliance on foreign sources.
It is important to remember that the USA is not the world’s sole energy customer.
We may be number one, but others are catching up – and fast. China, for example, is rapidly scaling the ladder of energy consumption.
From 2007 to 2008, Chinese oil demand grew by double digits – 12 percent. Even during the dour recessionary days of 2009, Chinese consumption at mid-year outstripped that of the equivalent period for 2008.
The Deepwater Horizon accident notwithstanding – overall performance by the industry shows that deepwater offshore drilling is thoughtfully and carefully subjected to extensive planning, intensive training, scientific scrutiny and application of advancing technologies.
To this point, the drilling and production industry has performed well in assessing and managing risk. In the wake of this accident, investigations, studies, and perhaps new guidelines will certainly ensue, all aiming to improve this vital industry.
We do not cease mining coal because of tragic cave-ins. We continue to fly with knowledge of infrequent crashes. We keep driving, despite road accidents. Similarly, we will continue to drill and produce offshore, even as we work to improve safety and diversify our energy mix.
Without the valuable energy contribution of our offshore fields, energy prices will soar, importation increase, and security decrease.
These must not become the inevitable consequences of this tragic event. We will learn, improve and persevere in the quest for energy independence.
Photo shows Oil booms protect a small island along Port East in the Gulf of Mexico, south of Louisiana April 29, 2010. REUTERS/Sean Gardner/Greenpeace/Handout