Global Ethics Corner: Deepwater Drilling and Fossil Fuels

Sep 24, 2010

Offshore oil spills have devastating consequences, yet storm-drain runoff from leaky cars and gas stations can be just as bad. Do the risks of deepwater drilling outweigh the rewards? Could efficiency and innovations on land meet our energy demands without further drilling?

This Global Ethics Corner is part of the Council's second annual SEPTEMBER SUSTAINABILITY MONTH, which kicks off a year of events and resources on sustainability. Generous funding of the Carnegie Council's 2010-2011 sustainability programming has been provided by Hewlett-Packard and by Booz & Company.

Offshore oil spills leave a powerful impression.

They render visible the pollution we regularly release as automobile exhaust. Beaches are tainted, wildlife dies, and the local marine economies take devastating hits.

Do the risks of deepwater drilling outweigh the rewards?

The BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates how human errors can be compounded by the technical difficulties of drilling in the deep ocean.

Furthermore, the fix can be as bad as the failure. Millions of gallons of toxic Corexit chemicals were dispersed to break up the oil without adequate public consultation or scientific awareness of its potential harm.

Oil spills are relatively fast and localized, yet storm-drain runoff from gas stations and leaky cars is widespread and cumulative, yearly dumping more than an Exxon Valdez worth of oil into North American waters.

Energy demand is immediate while global warming is slow, and our choices reflect this. Most governments have failed to cut pollution to levels that provide a reasonable chance of controlling global warming.

For example, Greenland recently announced the viability of drilling in its Arctic waters, a pristine environment prone to icebergs. Protesters responded by scaling a rig to halt production, and by picketing the project's financial backers in Scotland. Yet, normal energy consumption doesn't trigger this heated response.

What do you think? How do we manage the gap in our perceptions of the risks of fossil fuel consumption versus deepwater energy exploration? Could a focus on efficiency and innovations on land meet energy demand without further drilling? Should we drill in the deep ocean at all? What if other countries do?

By Evan O'Neil and William Vocke

Photo Credits in order of Appearance

Marine Photobank
Way Out West News
Infrogmation of New Orleans
Amy Taylor
Beatrice Murch
Christine Zenino (chrissy575)
Ville Miettinen
The Sierra Club
Enrico Strocchi

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