[Coral-List] Offshore Drilling vs Removal of Offshore

David Fisk davefisk at gmail.com
Mon Oct 13 05:54:19 EDT 2008

While this debate on the relative impacts of offshore oil production on
marine oil pollution is interesting, it is a bit restricted in its scope if
we are talking about the impacts per se of offshore drilling.

Oil pollution is but one of the issues as the significance of impacts
depends a lot on factors such as depth, currents, sensitivity of affected
biota etc. It's the totality of impacts and the cumulative effects that
really should be discussed here.

Soft benthos communities are important too (eg, for many fisheries), and
there can be significant impacts from turbulence due to shipping associate
with the industry, and direct physical disturbances from the anchoring
systems of rigs as well as pipelines (if they are in shallow water); fish
concentrations around rigs is often overlooked (rigs don't necessarily
improve recruitment or survival of wild stocks, just concentrate them) and
the build up of predators (not only are fish concentrations good for
fishermen but predators can improve their 'catch rates' too), also, there is
the potential of pollution from drilling muds (the abrasive mixtures used to
aid drilling efficiency; much of which are secret formulas made up of
materials ranging from benign items (I have heard of walnut shells being
used) to toxic solutions (acids and the like)), remembering that drill holes
can be numerous over a potential field (as not all holes strike oil and end
up with a rig floating over the top). I am sure there are other potential
impacts to consider as well - gas release and the products from flaring off
the excess gas, and effects like rubbish build up, release of cleaning
solutions and all the usual household wastes from the rigs into surrounding
waters, waste water from desalinators, etc.

Of course there is the contentious issue of soundings and potential impacts
on cetaceans in the exploratory stages. The mix of grey whale benthic
feeding grounds and oil exploration and production in the NW Pacific is an
important special case of different interactions of oil activities with

Overall, society is usually willing to accept these impacts (as expressed by
government licenses being granted), as a tradeoff with the benefits of
oil. Individually, each rig probably has a relatively low total impact, but
when you multiply this by the numbers of rigs in some oil fields and the
time span of their presence, maybe it is worth a serious consideration as to
the real benefits and costs. The risk of a serious environmental accident
has to factored into the assessment as well.

However, under the current oil dependence levels and influence of oil
companies on public policy, there is little chance of a change of view. For
now, the best outcome that can be achieved is that groups of scientists like
the coral list should ensure that the total message on potential impacts is
available for all to make their own judgments. We can then at least hope
that adequate legislation will be in place and enforced, so that all efforts
to minimise impacts are made.

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