10 06 03 The BP Oil disaster Eric Rempel

The BP Oil Disaster

The BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico should surprise no one. When oil was first discovered, it was available on the surface of the ground. The first oil wells were shallow and were dug with primitive equipment. It worked! But as we know, the automobile came along and the readily accessible oil was soon used up. It became necessary to go after oil that was less accessible, and more sophisticated equipment was needed. Human ingenuity prevailed, and we progressed from shallow wells to deeper well, to offshore wells to arctic wells in permafrost and to tar sands.

As recently as WWII, oil was not hard to extract from the ground, although distribution was a challenge. All the early oil spills were the result of tanker collisions. The first serious spill was in 1967, and the most serious tanker spill was the Exxon Valdesz in 1989. Better ship designs were possible, but that was expensive. The evolutionary development of safer shipping methods was slow.

The first off shore drilling disaster occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979. Gradually the drilling companies and regulators developed appropriate technology and safeguards. But these technologies were appropriate for drilling in shallow depths. Everything was fine until the oil accessible with that technology was used up. It was then necessary to go for oil that was even harder to get at. Was the technology up to the challenge? Well we won't know unless we try. Could we make it safer? Of course, but that would increase the cost.

Prior to 2008, there was widespread drilling for oil, but certain oil deposits were simply off limits, most notably deep offshore oil, arctic oil and tar sand oil. Add safety and environmental concerns to the sheer economic costs, and it did not make sense to go after these deposits. But that all changed in 2008 when oil hit $150 a barrel. Now it did make economic sense, and we all [oil companies, governments and ordinary car drivers], thoroughly addicted to cheap oil, yielded to the temptation – trivialized safety and environmental concerns and continued our unbridled consumption of oil.

And unless we deal with our cheap energy addiction it will happen again. There can be no doubt. The indicators are all there? Here are just a few indicators evident in Canada. Without hesitation, we are assured by government spokesmen, that this won't happen here because the Canadian regulatory environment is better than the US. Other spokesmen rejoice (in a perverted kind of way) because this disaster makes the tar sands look better. A cautionary, conservative approach would be to say that in light of this disaster we will need to review our drilling practices and our safeguards. I hear it; you hear it – trivializing the environmental and safety concerns so we can go on with our lifestyles built around cheap oil.

Why would anyone in his right mind drill for oil one mile beneath the surface of the ocean? The answer is simple: This is the most available oil we can access today! More disasters are coming!