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JUNE 25, 2010 8:17AM

"The Environmentalists" and Deepwater Drilling

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You might surmise from the title that I am going to make a causal connection between "the environmentalists" and deepwater drilling.  However, the purpose of this post is to illustrate, using actual facts instead of talking points, that such a connection is false. A fabrication. A canard.  So, even though this is a very long post (you've been warned!), it has a pretty narrow focus.

Since the April 20th explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon which killed eleven people and caused the largest oil spill in United States history (with no end in sight), there has been what appears to be an organized propaganda push by various conservative factions to place the blame for the disaster on a shadowy and wildly powerful group of people known only as "the environmentalists," or occasionally, for variety, "the radical environmentalists."

The theory, such as it is, posits that because "the environmentalists" have somehow successfully prohibited drilling in safer shallow water (presumably because of their anti-American concern for the health of the oceans, and their unhealthy attachment to lower species of marine mammals, birds and fish), the environmentally conscious and altruistic oil companies have been forced to drill in increasingly deep and dangerous waters.  They don't want to do this, but they have to, because "the environmentalists" are apparently stationed around the Gulf of Mexico, using mind control to send dolphins with bombs to blow up their drilling platforms.  (OK, I made that part up, but I think I saw a movie once with a similar plot.)

It must take some super-human form of denial (or possibly living in an alternate universe) to really believe that non-profit environmental groups have more power than oil companies, but I keep hearing it again and again.

No particular regulation or piece of legislation is ever cited to back up this claim, and no specific environmental group is mentioned.  Nor is it ever explained how "the environmentalists" got to such a lofty position.  It is merely accepted as gospel because people like Bill Kristol, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin say it on TV or on Facebook.

Sarah Palin:  "Extreme deep water drilling is not the preferred choice to meet our country's energy needs, but your protests and lawsuits and lies about onshore and shallow water drilling have locked up safer areas. It's catching up with you. The tragic, unprecedented deep water Gulf oil spill proves it."

I understand that if something is repeated often enough, and if it reinforces one's existing bias, it is more readily accepted as truth.  That is human nature, and something to which no one is completely immune.  Often, though, there are easily accessible facts that can shed new light on our most deeply held beliefs.  We can either ignore these facts, or we can reconsider and adjust our beliefs accordingly.

I would like to debunk the theory on two separate fronts.

First, we need to talk about the way government actually works.  Here, I will discuss congressional lobbying and the Minerals Management Service.

Second, I will discuss the forces that are really behind the new focus on deepwater drilling.

Congressional Lobbying

With Congress' approval rating at its lowest point ever, I think it's safe to say that both liberals and conservatives realize that our lawmakers are bought by lobbyists and the interests those lobbyists represent.  In Washington, D.C., money talks - and it also writes legislation.  (In fact, according to this 2007 article in The Washington Post, Dick Cheney's energy task force met over 40 times with representatives of energy industries, but only once with representatives from environmental groups.  Dick Cheney wasn't even present at that meeting, and "the initial draft of the task was [already] substantially complete".  The work of the task force led to the passage of the Energy Policy Act in 2005.)

So who's throwing around the big money inside the beltway?

Thanks to a website called OpenSecrets.org, part of the Center For Responsive Government, there is a great deal of  information available about lobbyists, categorized by issue or industry, and the amounts of money that they give to members of Congress.  Below I compare the amounts spent so far this year by the environmental lobby and the oil and gas lobby.

 

Here is the report for environmental lobbying f0r 2010.  (I have only included the top ten lobbying clients, as I think it illustrates the point well enough.)

Total for Environment: $5,495,200
Total Number of Clients Reported: 92
Total Number of Lobbyists Reported: 314

World Wildlife Fund:  $700,000

Nature Conservancy:  $550,000

Environmental Defense Fund:  $522,000

Clean Economy Network:  $456,500

US Climate Action Partnership:  $255,000

Defenders of Wildlife:  $130,226

Green Tech Action Fund:  $130,000

National Parks Conservation Assn:  $127,772

Natural Resources Defense Council:  $117,700

Intl Assn of Fish & Wildlife Agencies:  $115,000

 

Here is the report for the oil and gas industry for 2010.  (Again, I have only included the top ten lobbying clients.) 

Total for Oil & Gas: $38,178,838
Total Number of Clients Reported: 150
Total Number of Lobbyists Reported: 609

ConocoPhillips:  $6,408,978

BP:  $3,530,000

Exxon Mobil:  $3,390,000

Chevron Corp:  $3,090,000

Royal Dutch Shell:  $2,320,000

Koch Industries:  $1,950,000

Marathon Oil:  $1,380,000

Williams Companies:  $1,340,000

Anadarko Petroleum:  $1,320,000

American Petroleum Institute:  $1,260,000

 

As you can see, the total for the top 10 environmental organizations combined ($3,104,198) comes out to less than half of the amount from just the top oil and gas corporation, ConocoPhillips.  It is also less than the amount from BP alone, as well as the amount from Exxon Mobil alone.  All told, the oil and gas lobby spends seven times the amount that the environmental lobby spends.

The total amount of money given by environmental groups to their top 20 recipients comes to $375,421.  The total amount of money given by the oil and gas industry to its top 20 recipients comes to $2,816,602.  Again, this is a difference of 7.5 times.

This money is given so freely because lobbying works.  Even "the environmentalists" win the occasional minor victory, although any clout they may have pales in comparison.  No one would spend these amounts if they didn't get some return on the investment.  But it's particularly true of the oil industry.  (This industry, by the way, gave over $900,000 to Barack Obama in 2008, and almost $2.5 million to John McCain).

As Sam Stein writes in The Huffington Post:

As Congress gears up for a legislative response to the oil spill in the Gulf and energy reform more broadly, some political observers are increasingly worried that the deck may be stacked in private industry's favor.

That's because in the first three months of this year alone, the company at the heart of the current crisis, BP, has hired at least 27 lobbyists who formerly worked in Congress or the executive branch. The revolving door between the oil giant and elected office is spinning fast -- so much so that good government officials are hard-pressed to name a comparable organization with that much institutional clout on tap.

"It is a lot," said David Donnelly National Campaigns Director at Public Campaign Action Fund. "You don't often find more than two dozen."

In the first three months of 2010 -- the three months that immediately preceded the explosion of its Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig -- BP spent more than $3.8 million dollars on lobbying the federal government. The cash was spread around seven prominent lobby shops within the D.C. area (including BP's own internal operation), who in turn employed 39 lobbyists to help the company push its legislative interests. That nearly 70 percent of those hired guns have experience in elected office doesn't surprise good government officials because those are after all the most sought-after hires on K Street.

"A former Hill staffer who is now lobbying comes with a ready-made Rolodex of contacts for those people working and writing legislation," added Donnelly.

For an object lesson in how well lobbying works, read what Rep. Joe Barton (who has received $1.4 million from the oil and gas industry over the last 20 years) had to say, as quoted in this June 17, 2010, Associated Press article, describing BP CEO Tony Hayward's appearance before a Congressional committee:

While most of the opening statements by members contained harsh criticisms of BP, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, accused the White House of conducting a "$20 billion shakedown" by requiring oil giant BP to establish a fund to compensate those hurt by the Gulf Coast oil spill.

"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House" on Wednesday, said Barton, who has received at least $100,470 in political contributions from oil and gas interests since the beginning of 2009, the second-highest amount among all the committee members.

And, by the way, not once in his prepared testimony did Hayward mention "the environmentalists", the environmental lobby or environmental regulations as bearing any of the responsibility for this disaster.  You would think, if he was looking to shift some of the burden from BP, he would have latched onto any reasonable scapegoat.  He didn't, because that scapegoat doesn't exist.

But back to Barton, who is but one of many Representatives and Senators on the receiving end of vast amounts of oil industry money.  Of course, he has already been written about extensively after his "misconstrued misconstruction", but does it get any more blatant than that? According to votesmart.org, between 1995 and 2009, Rep. Barton supported the interests of the League of Conservation Voters between 0% and 8% of the time.  However, according to ontheissues.org, Rep. Barton has the following voting record when it comes to the interests of the oil and gas industry:

  • Voted NO on enforcing limits on CO2 global warming pollution. (Jun 2009)
  • Voted NO on tax credits for renewable electricity, with PAYGO offsets. (Sep 2008)
  • Voted NO on tax incentives for energy production and conservation. (May 2008)
  • Voted NO on tax incentives for renewable energy. (Feb 2008)
  • Voted NO on investing in homegrown biofuel. (Aug 2007)
  • Voted NO on criminalizing oil cartels like OPEC. (May 2007)
  • Voted NO on removing oil & gas exploration subsidies. (Jan 2007)
  • Voted NO on keeping moratorium on drilling for oil offshore. (Jun 2006)
  • Voted YES on scheduling permitting for new oil refinieries. (Jun 2006)
  • Voted YES on authorizing construction of new oil refineries. (Oct 2005)
  • Voted YES on passage of the Bush Administration national energy policy. (Jun 2004)
  • Voted YES on implementing Bush-Cheney national energy policy. (Nov 2003)
  • Voted NO on raising CAFE standards; incentives for alternative fuels. (Aug 2001)
  • Voted NO on prohibiting oil drilling & development in ANWR. (Aug 2001)
  • Voted NO on starting implementation of Kyoto Protocol. (Jun 2000)

So, do you think that that $38 million spent this year (and the $175 million spent last year) by the oil and gas companies, versus the $5.5 million spent by "the environmentalists" has paid off?  I'll say this in my best Sarah Palin voice:  You betcha'! It's kind of like majority rule, only with dollars instead of people!  Whoever has the most dollars rules!

Are we clear now on who's in charge of our government? 

Minerals Management Service

The listing in Wikipedia for the Minerals Management Service states: 

Minerals Management Service (MMS) is an agency of the United States Department of the Interior that manages the nation's natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf (OCS). The Offshore program, which manages the mineral resources on the OCS, is comprised of three regions: Alaska, Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean.  The agency receives most of its revenue from leasing federal lands and waters to oil and natural gas companies with a profit margin of 98%. It is one of the largest revenue sources to the federal government after the IRS. The MMS is responsible for inspection and oversight of energy companies to ensure they are following the law and protecting the safety of their workers and the environment.
 According to CNN:
The MMS, which has about 1,700 employees, has two responsibilities when it comes to industries such as oil or natural gas. It must act as a regulator while also collecting royalties from the companies.

Some critics say those are opposite pulls and make the agency ripe for mismanagement.

I would say those critics are right about that.  These two functions are diametrically opposed to one another.  Of course, the agency (and the government) wants to collect more royalties.  The only way to do this is to keep regulation (and costs to energy companies) to a bare minimum. (In fact, a 2010 Inspector General's report charges that MMS inspectors let the oil and gas company personnel fill out their own inspection reports in pencil, later tracing over them in pen to make them "official".) 

Concerns have also been voiced about the revolving door at MMS, where agency officials go on to highly-paid positions at the companies they once regulated.  Such an arrangement practically screams "conflict of interest". However, I am unaware of any MMS officials who have gone on to work for or lobby for environmental groups.

In 2008, the Inspector General for the United States Department of the Interior issued three reports which found wrongdoing by current and former employees of the Minerals Management Service.  As summarized in this New York Times article,the report cites "a culture of ethical failure" within the agency.  Some of the findings include:
  • In one of the new reports, investigators concluded that Ms. Denett (former  associate director of minerals revenue management)worked with two aides to steer a lucrative consulting contract to one of the aides after he retired, violating competitive procurement rules

  • The report says that eight officials in the royalty program accepted gifts from energy companies whose value exceeded limits set by ethics rules — including golf, ski and paintball outings; meals and drinks; and tickets to a Toby Keith concert, a Houston Texans football game and a Colorado Rockies baseball game.

  • The investigation also concluded that several of the officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.”

  • The investigation separately found that the program’s manager mixed official and personal business. In sometimes lurid detail, the report also accuses him of having intimate relations with two subordinates, one of whom regularly sold him cocaine.

  • The report said that Mr. Smith (former program director of the royalty-in-kind program) improperly used his position with the royalty program to get an outside consulting job helping a technical services firm seek deals with oil and gas companies with which he was also conducting official business.

  • The report accused Mr. Smith of improperly accepting gifts from the oil and gas industry, of engaging in sex with two subordinates and of using cocaine that he purchased from his secretary or her boyfriend several times a year between 2002 and 2005. He sometimes asked for the drugs and received them in his office during work hours, the report said.

  • The report also detailed cozy relationships between energy companies and other officials in the royalty-in-kind program office. Some 19 officials — a third of the staff — took gifts from oil and gas executives, some with “prodigious frequency,” it said.

  • Two female employees “engaged in brief sexual relationships with industry contacts,” the reports’ cover memo said, adding that “sexual relationships with prohibited sources cannot, by definition, be arms’ length.”  (Ha!  A bit of bureaucratic humor!)

  • A report from Mr. Devaney’s (the Inspector General) office earlier this year found that the program had frequently allowed companies that purchased the oil and gas to revise their bids downward after they won contracts. It documented 118 such occasions that cost taxpayers about $4.4 million in all.

 The article goes on to state:

The report said that the officials told investigators that the gifts and socializing did not affect how they treated the companies in their official duties.  They also said they did not view socializing with oil company representatives and taking gifts as inappropriate because they said they needed to be part of the marketing culture in order to market the program’s oil and gas.

In other words, this was the culture of the Minerals Management Service.  Anyone who has worked for an organization knows that each one has a unique culture that develops over a number of years, one that is modeled from the top down, and to which new employees are expected to conform.  It is notoriously difficult to change an established organizational culture.  Luckily, in most cases, a culture of ethical failure doesn't cause this kind of damage.

The 2010 report, issued last month, which focused on the MMS Lake Charles District Office, finds many of the same kinds of ethical lapses.  (But it seems that MMS employees have switched from cocaine to crystal meth.)

Given the above, is it any wonder that the following series of events occurred?

  • MMS's 2009 decision that an acoustically-controlled shut-off valve would not be required as a last resort against underwater spills at the site.
  • MMS's failure to suggest other "fail-safe" mechanisms after a 2004 report raised questions about the reliability of the electrical remote-control devices.
  • Prior to Director Birnbaum's appointment, MMS granted a categorical exclusion waiver on April 6, 2009 to BP exempting it from the National Environmental Policy Act's requirements including a detailed environmental analysis, concluding the spill risk in that part of the Gulf was "minimal or nonexistent."  Such NEPA waivers have become routine at MMS, and the Interior Department approves 250 to 400 per year for Gulf of Mexico projects.
  • MMS gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA) that assesses threats to endangered species - and despite strong warnings from NOAA about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the Gulf.  Those approvals, federal records show, include one for the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and resulting in thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf each day.
  • MMS routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised concerns about the safety and the environmental impact of drilling proposals in the Gulf and in Alaska.
  • Since April 20, 2010, twenty-seven new offshore drilling projects have been approved by MMS.  All but one project was granted similar exemptions from environmental review as BP.  Two were submitted by the UK firm, and made the same claims about oil-rig safety and the implausibility of a spill damaging the environment.

(The above taken from Wikipedia.org, footnoted with the following sources:  Houston Chronicle 5/8/10; Washington Post 5/5/10; New York Times 5/13/10; The Guardian 5/9/10.)

Look at that last bullet again.  And there are people are claiming that a six-month moratorium is an overreaction!

Why Deepwater Drilling? 

First off, according to the MMS (the industry that is in bed, both literally and figuratively, with the oil industry), there are 3,417 active shallow-water platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.  So it is not true that "the environmentalists" have prevented safer shallow-water drilling.

(And as for the "safer" part, let's not forget that, up until now, the most disastrous oil spill in North America, the Ixtoc well blowout in 1979, happened in less than 170 feet of water, and still took nearly a year to contain. Steve Klingaman wrote a very informative post about the Ixtoc spill, which you can read by clicking here.  Also, last year's Montara oil spill in Australia occurred in shallow water, and took more than ten weeks to contain.  In addition, a study by the Minerals Management Service concluded that more blowouts - as a percentage of number of wells - happen in shallow water than in deep water.)

The problem is that these shallow-water wells are in decline. Oil fields do run dry, and the days of easy-to-get-to oil are over.  There aren't going to be any more Jed Clampetts, Jett Rinks or Daniel Plainviews.  (I'm not really going to talk about peak oil, as this isn't really the focus of this post, but oil field decline certainly is an integral part of the peak oil discussion.)

Two years ago, the MMS published a report titled Deepwater Gulf of Mexico 2008:  America's Offshore Energy Future (which features a majestic photo of the pre-explosion Deepwater Horizon on page 33).  Here are some of the findings of that report:

Deep water has continued to be a very important part of the total GOM production, providing approximately 72 percent of the oil and 38 percent of the gas in the region. At the end of 2007, there were 130 producing projects in the deepwater GOM, up from 122 at the end of 2006. In fact, 15 deepwater fields, including Atlantis, Shenzi, and several associated with Independence Hub, began production last year. When Independence Hub reaches full capacity, it will represent over 10 percent of the total GOM gas production. Proved deepwater fields now number 125, representing a 44 percent increase from the end of 2006. For the first time in history, all 20 of the highest producing blocks in the GOM were in deep water. (Preface)

When the original version of this report (Cranswick and Regg, 1997) was published in February 1997, a new era for the GOM had just begun with intense interest in the oil and gas potential of the deepwater areas. At that time there were favorable economics, recent deepwater discoveries, and significant leasing spurred on by the Deep Water Royalty Relief Act (DWRRA; 43 U.S.C. §1337). In February 1997, there were 17 producing deepwater projects, up from only 6 at the end of 1992. Since then, industry has been rapidly advancing into deep water, and many of the anticipated fields have begun production. At the end of 2007, there were 130 producing projects in the deepwater GOM, up from 122 at the end of 2006. (Page 4)

In 1986, the first discovery in the GOM in water depths greater than 5,000 ft (1,524 m) occurred with Mensa. Since that time, there have been 60 additional discoveries in the ultra-deep provinces of the Gulf. (Page 9)

Significant challenges exist in deep water in addition to environmental considerations. Deepwater operations are very expensive and often require significant amounts of time between the initial exploration and first production. Despite these challenges, deepwater operators often reap great rewards. Figure 7 shows the history of discoveries in the deepwater GOM. There was a shift toward deeper water over time, and the number of deepwater discoveries continues at a steady pace. (Page 14)

The deepwater GOM has contributed major additions to the total reserves in the GOM. Figure 40 shows the proved reserves added each year by water-depth category. Additions from the shallow waters of the GOM declined in recent years but, beginning in 1975, the deepwater area started contributing significant new reserves. Between 1975 and 1983, the majority of these additions were from discoveries in slightly more than 1,000 ft (305 m) of water. It was not until 1985 that major additions came from water depths greater than 1,500 ft (457 m). From 1998 to 2001, significant proved reserves were added in the 5,000-to 7,499-ft (1,524- to 2,286-m) water depth range. The year 2002 saw the first substantial addition from water depths greater than 7,500 ft (2,286 m). (Page 58)

Figure 42 illustrates the most important feature of the deepwater field discoveries, that their average size is many times larger than the average size of shallow-water fields. Generally over the past 10 years, the field sizes in ultra-deep water are many times larger than shallower-water fields. (Page 58)

Table 6 shows that for the first time all of the 20 most prolific producing blocks in the GOM are located in deep water. Figure 47 illustrates the relative volume of production from each GOM lease through time. Notice the large deepwater volumes that first appear in 1998 and 1999. More recent production continues to expand over a larger area and into deeper waters. (Page 61)

Figure 49a illustrates historic trends in oil production. Shallow-water oil production rose rapidly in the 1960’s, peaked in 1971, and has undergone cycles of increase and decline since then. Since 1997, the shallow-water GOM oil production has steadily declined and, at the end of 2006, was at its lowest level since 1965. From 1995 through 2003, deepwater oil production experienced a dramatic increase similar to that seen in the shallow-water GOM during the 1960’s, offsetting declines in shallow-water oil production. Starting in 2003, deepwater oil production leveled off. In 2006, deepwater oil production accounted for over 72 percent of total GOM oil production. (Page 67)

Figure 53a shows that the average deepwater oil completion currently produces at about 20 times the rate of the average shallow-water [less than 1,000 ft [305 m)] oil completion. (Page 71)

The future of deepwater GOM exploration and production remains very promising. Factors contributing to the increase in deepwater activity include several key discoveries (including those recent discoveries in the Lower Tertiary Trend), the recognition of high production rates, the evolution of development technologies, and a rise in oil and gas price (Page 76) (emphasis mine)

Hmm, no mention anywhere in this report of environmentalists or environmental regulations being behind the trend toward deepwater drilling. 

And let's repeat that fact that the average deepwater completion currently produces at about 20 times the rate of the average shallow-water completion.  Does anyone believe that oil companies are continuing to insist on shallow-water drilling, but are being blocked by "the environmentalists", when deepwater wells are producing at 20 times the rate?  That defies all logic.

So let's reiterate the real reason that oil companies are engaging in deepwater drilling.  Put quite simply, it's because that's where the oil is.  (If you need a graphic reminder of just how productive a deepwater well can be, just keep watching this - live video feed from the spill - or check out this illustration by Saturn Smith.) As we have seen since April 2oth, even though it took BP a long time to tell us how much oil was gushing out every day (and who knows if they're telling the truth even now), there is a lot of oil under those deep waters, and a lot of money to be made for people like Tony Hayward.

I don't think a radical environmentalist was holding a gun to the head of Andy Inglis, BP's chief executive for exploration and production, when BP issued this statement in 2009: "Tiber represents BP's second material discovery in the emerging Lower Tertiary play in the US Gulf of Mexico, following our earlier Kaskida discovery.  These material discoveries together with our industry leading acreage position support the continuing growth of our deepwater Gulf of Mexico business into the second half of the next decade."

In other words, BP was pissing its pants with excitement over these huge new oil fields.  In fact, its shares rose 3.7% after the announcement.  Nowhere in the statement were environmental regulations mentioned as a reason for deepwater exploration.

Right about now is when I expect someone is will bring up the ANWR, and that's fine, let's talk about the ANWR.  This does appear to be one (precarious) victory for "the environmentalists" (even if the ANWR was established by Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower), but I see it as more of a victory for the American people, as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge belongs to all of us, even those of us who will probably never get to see it.  (You know, I might never get to see the Grand Canyon either - that doesn't mean it should be used as a landfill.) 

This 2008 article from U.S. News and World Report, which references a report published by the U.S. Energy Information Agency, an independent statistical agency within the Department of Energy, states the following:

New oil from ANWR would lower the world price of oil by no more than $1.44 per barrel—and possibly have as little effect as 41 cents per barrel—and would have its largest impact nearly 20 years from now if Congress voted to open the refuge today.  

If Congress approved development in 2008, it would take 10 years for oil production to commence, EIA said.  With production starting, then, in 2018, EIA said the most likely scenario is that oil would peak at 780,000 barrels per day in 2027 and decline to 710,000 barrels per day in 2030.  Currently, the United States consumes about 20 million barrels of oil per day.

EIA said its projection is that ANWR oil production would amount to 0.4 percent to 1.2 percent of total world oil consumption in 2030.  The figure is low enough that OPEC could neutralize any price impact by decreasing supplies to match the additional production from Alaska, EIA noted.

New oil from Alaska would, however, reduce foreign oil dependence slightly, EIA said.  With the United States currently on track to get 54 percent of its oil from overseas by 2030, EIA said, if ANWR were opened, the share of oil from foreign countries would drop to 48 percent in the best-case scenaior or 52 percent if ANWR turns out to produce at the lower end of the range of projections.  That would mean that U.S. spending on foreign oil between 2018 and 2030 would be reduced by $135 billion to $327 billion.

So we're talking a potential decrease of 2-6% in our dependence on foreign oil in about 10 years.  (That decrease of $135 billion, by the way, is equal to the amount that it cost to wage war on Iraq for about 9 months.  It's chump change.)  Is it worth it?  I think that "no" is a very legitimate answer, and not in any way a "radical" position.  

And even if the ANWR were opened to drilling, does anyone really think that oil companies would stop looking for untapped oil reserves elsewhere, including deep water?  That they're going to say, "OK, we're done now.  We've got enough."?  That's makes no sense at all.  That's what they do.  They drill for oil so that they can make money for their shareholders.  Is there anyone who doesn't understand this?

According to this McClatchy article about deepwater drilling:

Ultra-deepwater production matters because conventional U.S. oil production has been in decline since the 1970s, and near-shore production along the Gulf Coast peaked in 1997.

"It's a big part of our supply from the entire gulf ... and we're expecting the increase to continue," said Leta Smith, the director of oil supply research for Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a leading oil analyst.

Globally, one in every 10 barrels of oil produced in 2030 will come from ultra-deepwater operations, she said, adding that roughly 70 percent of the deep water in the Gulf of Mexico remains unexplored.

In 1990, the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico yielded about 20,000 barrels per day of crude oil. By 2009, that number had grown to 1 million, according to CERA.

Nine projects that are coming onstream will add at least 200,000 barrels per day this year, said CERA researchers, who expect deepwater production to account for 17 percent of U.S. liquids production this year, which includes oil and natural gas.

Today there are at least 42 active deepwater projects for exploration or production in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico or international gulf waters, and at least another five projects in the works. Seventeen of those are ultra-deepwater.

Deepwater drilling used to be considered depths around 1,000 feet below the sea surface, but it's now a range of about 1,500 feet to 5,000 feet. Anything 5,000 feet or more below the surface is described as ultra-deepwater.

Transocean Ltd., whose exploration rig exploded and collapsed last month, leading to the spill, boasted last September that it's drilled to 35,000 feet below the ocean floor, operating below 4,130 feet of water. That project was for BP, as is the one involving the spill. Switzerland-based Transocean also bragged that it held the record for operating in deep water, at 10,011 below the surface, on a Chevron project.

Outside the Gulf Coast region, Brazil is the world's most promising ultra-deepwater producer, with new discoveries in the past five years in the so-called Santos basin that experts think will make the South American giant a powerhouse in the oil business. Deep waters off the African nations of Nigeria and Angola also hold promise. (emphasis mine)

With regard to that last sentence, since we know what hotbeds of environmental activism Nigeria and Angola are, the fact that oil companies are turning to deepwater drilling in these regions pretty much proves the point that shallow-water reserves are beginning to tap out, and they have to start looking elsewhere.

And if you'd like to read about the next potential disaster, here's an article from Rolling Stone about plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean.


Well, if you've made it with me this far, all I can say is thanks.  Much of this information has been presented elsewhere, and for many of you, none of this is new.  I thought it might be helpful, however, to gather as much as possible in one place.  And I just needed to get it out of my system.

In closing, I'd like to say just a few words about "the environmentalists" who did not cause this oil spill.  "The environmentalists" are fighting for our environment, not the environment.  Our environment is where we all have to live (even people like Joe Barton), and it really comes down to a very simple concept. 

Just as you wouldn't take a shit in your own living room, corporations shouldn't be taking a shit in our collective living room.  This is what BP, aided and abetted by our Congress and the Minerals Management Service, did here.  Not because of environmental regulation, but because they bought a government and a regulatory agency, which in turn allowed them to circumvent most regulations, and because they go where the oil is.

I'll leave you with this quote by John Muir, founder of The Sierra Club:

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

I think anyone who doesn't understand that hasn't got a soul.  Such a person looks at every place of wilderness merely in terms of what can be sucked out of it to make money.  There are other values besides the capitalist value.  But that seems to be the default value, the right value, the only value.  And it's not even that other values are ignored.  Other values are denigrated, mocked and demonized, and relegated to the "outer fringes".  Other values are seen as "radical" and "wacko".  I believe this is a testament to how thoroughly corporatism has taken hold in this country.

We have seen what this has wrought in the Gulf of Mexico, and we (those of us with souls, anyway) weep for what's to come.

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Whew ! Made it to the end.

Thanks for all the effort here. You are on point throughout I believe in this essay and it could not be put more simply than when you say the drilling in deep waters occurs because that's where the oil is.

I hope you get many to see this. Thanks.
It's like majority rule except with dollars instead if people.

you betcha. :)
Thanks, aka and dolores. I was really torn about making this so long, but I wanted it to be a resource more than anything else.

(And I apologize if the link to the BP feed keeps changing. I am trying to keep it linked to whichever live feed shows the gushing oil, but they seem to move it around.)
You put the notion that this is the environmentalists fault to rest... except that the righties ignore well-reasoned articles like this and continue to spew their bs. Thanks for this.
This was well worth the reading investment. The numbers do the talking here, and your added analysis and connections are very valuable. Saving this one.
Brilliant. Sarah Palin's remark pretty much says it all. Soon, there will be a chorus of imitators. But you make the case persuasively. And it points to the shortages to come, sooner than later.
A most excellent post. Thank you so much, Jeannette. You've made your case. It's funny b/c my very first hearing of this oil spill came from my conservative parents, who said something about the environmentalists being behind it. Without knowing much else, I understood that this is something that came out of Rush Limbaugh's mouth, and sure enough when I went to listen to transcripts from the day before, he made some cracks about the environmentalists blowing up the rig on purpose to highlight their agenda. With more facts on the ground later, the right has simply savvied up their argument to the powerful environmentalists being responsible for moving the drilling deeper.

A total aside: I hadn't heard the precise language of Barton before your piece, and I'm struck by his use of the word "ashamed." Isn't this what got the right in a tizzy when the Dixie Chicks used it in England about Bush? The Dixie Chicks! Now imagine if it had been a congressperson mouthing off in Congressional testimony to a British CEO. Hypocrisy abounds.
My dear, this marvelous extraordinarily well researched post took up my OS time allotment for today, but was well worth it. I have avoided deep and thorough reading on this topic, because every word and image breaks my heart. This one post seemed worth five on Huffpost or Big Salon.

"a culture of ethical failure" Oh man, yes. We are disconnected from the reality of what we do to drive and to stay warm and cool and comfy. We are not shown the images, are not told the stories that might shift our ethics, because that doesn't advance the agenda, and because we don't really want to know the gritty dirt, unless it's abut someone's sex life. The media manages our attention and renders us numb, impulse oriented, and divorced from nature. We don't get that we are chewing away at our own foot.
Is it they go where the oil is, or is it they go where the oil is in the areas where they are allowed to go?

If this had happened on dry land how long do you think it would have taken to stop the spill? So why is there so much dry land off limits? If this had happened in shallow water how long would it have taken to stop it? So why is the massive oil fields off the coast of Florida off limits?

They go where the oil is and they are allowed to go. So who is keeping saver areas off limits? It's not the oil companies.
I dont think there are any safe areas to drill for oil. It is a nasty fuel and needs to be replaced with clean energy resources. We need to cut back on consumption and may be forced to as time goes by. This article was wonderful and gave me lots of information to work with. I can't believe people blame environmentalists. sigh....
zanelle

Let's say that replacing oil is a good idea as a starting point.

So what are you going to replace it with and when will that product be ready? Will it be 1 year, 10 years, 20 years? What do we do until then?

We are 1/3 of the worlds GDP. If we destroy our way of life what is going to happen to the rest of the world?
This is an excellent (and well-researched, well-written) piece of work. Love the depth, validity of points, and the writing! Thanks for sharing this!
@catnlion
You said "We are 1/3 of the worlds GDP. If we destroy our way of life what is going to happen to the rest of the world?" Their lives will probably improve, greatly. Making and buying a bunch of shit is not an unmitigated good. There is a gyre in the North Pacific Ocean that is the size of Texas or larger filled with discared plactic, toxic sludge, and other garbage, that is what our GDP does for the world.
Anthony Duval

So if we don't grow food and export it, they will start growing their own which they haven't been able to do. If we don't buy what they make they can live on even less income than they do now.

I wish I could live in your world where everything is peaches and cream.
It's times like this make me glad I'm out of a job. Gives me time to read a necessarily long (and very scholarly) piece of writing and even say Thank you afterward. This is not only an excellent resource skillfully written: it is a bomb to be tossed in the laps of those who choose the echo chamber to critical thinking. True enough, you can't argue with a stupid person, but even if only one or two get the message (and more than that will if we but take the time to try) it is a spark tossed on dry tinder (to use an environmentally terrible analogy I suppose). Here on OS it is largely preaching to the choir (though it also educates and arms us) but it has the potential for much wider use. I hope it will find its target outside this small circle. Knowlege is power, and it is dangerous. It is time we presented a palpable danger to the lunatic right rather than simply playing John the Baptist and hurling insults from out in the street. This is far more than an OS post; It is an important and potentially useful document. Kudos for a job very well done. Rated.
@catnlion
Laugh today, cry tomorrow. The situation that has allowed the U.S. to become 1/3 of the World GDP is absolutely unsustainable. With garbage choking our oceans and particulates choking our lungs we are going to need to come up with a different model or perish from our fowling of our nest. Ask the people of Bhopal India how wonderful life in a World with the U.S. is.
Jeanette, I was interested to learn in your very informative post that the conservatives say that the environmentalists are the reason for drilling in the deeper water. I never cease to be amazed at the lies coming from this group. Now I have another lie to add to the very long list!

On another note, based on their reasoning, it must be due to the environmentalists that many on the right want to drill in the parts of Alaska that have been off limits so far.
Exscellent, fantastic, thorough reporting, Jeaneatte. Thanks for painting a cleare picture.
Very nicely detailed article, Jeanette.
The DNA of Regulatory Capture and agency corruption.
You also answer that timeless "why do you rob banks" question as it relates to this issue - because that's where they keep the oil!

Cat...
There are few dry land oil deposits where new wells can produce what can now be found in the Gulf. Besides ANWR (which is no Big Deal anyway) being restricted, I'd like to know where are the others. As one might imagine, the cost/benefit motive as well as ever-advancing technology means the "easy" oil was drilled first. We passed our midpoint of production in 1970. It's getting harder to find and drill as a matter of depletion, not regulation.

Florida survives on tourism, and doesn't want oil rigs spoiling the view or fouling the waters. That's why the Eastern GOM has been restricted, and it's a very good reason.

While it's nice to think we're drilling our own American oil, the fact is we don't have much of it, so no reason to get too excited - we'll end up tapping it someday. We can't influence the price or the supply, so we don't have much clout in the oil game. All the more reason to move to alternatives that will cost more initially, but don't have massive trade deficits built in. What we actually pay for oil is higher than the per barrel price.
Excellent post. The numbers, and the facts, say it all. It's interesting that all the "libertarians" and conservatives who spend a lot of time at OS saying how they are interested in hearing different points of view, unlike the "left," didn't bother to comment on this post at all. Their silence tells me volumes. The vast majority are not interested in the truth, much less having their biases challenged.
Thanks for this brilliant compilation of facts.
The Palins depend upon folks not wanting to know but feel.
Extremely informative, Jeanette.

Thank you.

I have linked through to this on my recent BP post.
Wow, great reporting, Jeanette! I can only imagine how much time it took you to assemble and write this. Thank you for this public service.

I always feel like I'm back reading "1984" when I hear the Reps talk. I continue to be stunned -- and depressed -- that so many people fall for their transparently illogical and fraudulent doubletalk.
wow lots of stuff. can you tell the other half of the story now ?
with the help of the libs in congress and the white house, wacky inviro groups have had great success in preventing our country from accessing cheap energy. no new shallow water drilling, no land drilling.
no new nuke plants or refineries. in how long ?? if you won't use your own energy you can't complain about the price you pay someone else.
the fox
It's like talking to a brick wall.

Mr. "fox", why don't you tell the "other half" of the story? Please detail these great successes. Give us the facts.
Roger, thanks, and you're absolutely right. I lay out my case, and I get talking points in return. Nothing to back anything up.

sophieh, I hope you can use this as a reference. (And I would encourage everyone to use some of the links, especially opensecrets, votesmart, and ontheissues. These are really good resources to see what your Congress-critters are up to.

Steve, shortages? What do you mean? There's enough oil to last forever, doncha' know!

Lainey, yes I remember Rush, at the beginning, saying that. You can hear it right here. How many times does a guy have to be wrong before people have had enough?

Suzanne, I promise not to write such long posts in the future, but I can't thank you enough for reading it. It is a culture of ethical failure all the way around, isn't it?

catnlion, "Is it they go where the oil is, or is it they go where the oil is in the areas where they are allowed to go?" They go where the oil is. That was pretty much the gist of my post. Did you read it? "If this had happened in shallow water how long would it have taken to stop it?" It took almost a year with the Ixtoc spill. I linked to a post about it. You should read it. Paul was nice enough to respond to your comment as well. As for your other comments, I won't respond, as that wasn't the focus of my post, which I said at the start was very narrow.

zanelle, we definitely need to cut back on consumption. We need to be "conservative"! (Isn't it funny that, back in the olden days, conservatives actually used to be in favor of conservation?)

Marissa, thanks. I'm glad you got some value out of it.

Anthony, yes, our GDP is causing some massive problems, isn't it? I think there are limits to growth, and we are seeing it happen before our very eyes.

Bonnie, as always, thanks for reading and for being so encouraging. And yes, we need to keep them honest (if that's possible). I'll settle for not completely corrupt.

AJ, thank you so much. Coming from you, that is high praise, as I have great respect for your intelligence and analytical ability. (I hope your unemployment doesn't last long. Best of luck to you.)

designanator, yes, it always gets back to Alaska. I hope that the actual numbers make a persuasive argument about drilling in Alaska. It won't save us. And I don't think it's a particularly "radical" position to be opposed to drilling on every last goddamn piece of wilderness left in this country. It's ultimately a lazy and short-sighted fix for our predicament.

Thanks for reading, Alison!

Paul, thanks for your kind words and your response to catnlion. (I know we had a bit of a contentious disagreement recently, so I appreciate your reading and commenting here now.) And thank you for pointing out that there are legitimate reasons for not allowing drilling in some places.

emma, I guess a couple of them have showed up here. But they haven't offered anything of substance. Just repeating the talking points.

o'stephanie, it is often an appeal to the emotions. And, as I said, I'm not always immune to that sort of thing. Finding the facts is always a good antidote, though.

Progressive Liberal, thanks very much. I spent a lot of time on this, and it would be nice to have it read by as many people as possible.

Silkstone, thanks! It did take awhile, but I enjoyed putting it together. You're right, it is like doubletalk. The environmentalists own the government and dictate policy? On what planet? It's certainly not this one - the one that's getting more and more toxic every day.
This is real journalism. Thanks for creating an alternative to the talking points.
@Catnlion... I work for an energy company that is heavily involved in renewable energy projects and development. There are sufficient sources of renewable energy to replace fossil fuel energy... and more and more being developed everyday. The problem is, the fossil fuels companies don't want people to know that, so they try to make it sound as if it can't happen. Complete hogwash.
I'd like to add that, going from the data and info you posted, the oil lobby is made up of for-profit oil companies, while the environmental lobby is made up of organizations that are into conservation. Jeez... which one is the evil party here?

I find it hilarious that the oil companies are blaming the environmentalists for the oil spill. If they weren't so frickin' greedy for money, there would be no oil spills.
You're trying to reason with the unreasonable.

Rated.
@ Steve Klingaman- The chorus has already begun. I've been seeing this in the comment sections of the local daily newspaper's website for days now.
This was deep water drilling of a different kind. Of course, the people who need to get out there with you won't. They do sound bites that seem to make sense...and their "fans" are content with that. But I am so glad you did the work. For those of us who will read, will care, and will scream.

This is going to a lot of my friends today. THANK you!
Those nasty environmentalists! Imagine how their plans would interfere with driving our gas guzzlers and living in huge climate regulated houses!
Quite an excellent, (but rather long!) post. You are quite right, though and you must have done a ton of research. I will use this for future reference, you have a lot of info here.
Thanks for doing such a thorough job.
These Rethuglican Politicians are so damn stupid.. it is a wonder to me how they get elected. Then I look at Sarah Palin's FB page and see why. Thanks for the information. Posts like yours are the only way this news is going to get out there. Tha lamestream media as mother sarah likes to call them, won't be reporting on it anytime soon.
Jeanette, thank you so much for this thoughtful and well-written post. More than anything, I appreciate people who base an argument on fact and that is what you have done. If only those who are in a position to influence the masses were as mindful of truth, we might be able to solve a problem or two. This ought to be required reading. I wish I could rate you twice.
What a great job of research and analysis. We have lots of offshore oil activity here where I live and we have had oil all over our beaches before and it sure as hell wasn't because of the environmentalists!
Thanks for a great post.