Thursday, May 13, 2010

Crude Oil: You Can’t Have Your Cake And Eat It Too

As the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico continues to horrify the nation, especially those living near the shores directly in its path, opposition to offshore drilling has increased. Everybody is getting on the anti-drilling bandwagon, and even Sam Waterston, Law & Order star and a board memo of Oceana, spoke to Congress to urge a halt to new offshore drilling.

But while the spill expands and the outrage increases, our need for oil that will ultimately power or cars has not abated and we don’t seem any closer to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

Drilling for oil is an ugly business, and anytime we mix crude oil and water we are asking for trouble. And I don’t mean by just offshore drilling, I also include the transport of oil. There have been big oil spills in the past, some listed in this article in the New York Times, Gulf Oil Spill Is Bad, but How Bad? :

The ruptured well, currently pouring an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil a day into the gulf, could flow for years and still not begin to approach the 36 billion gallons of oil spilled by retreating Iraqi forces when they left Kuwait in 1991. It is not yet close to the magnitude of the Ixtoc I blowout in the Bay of Campeche in Mexico in 1979, which spilled an estimated 140 million gallons of crude before the gusher could be stopped.

And it will have to get much worse before it approaches the impact of the Exxon Valdez accident of 1989, which contaminated 1,300 miles of largely untouched shoreline and killed tens of thousands of seabirds, otters and seals along with 250 eagles and 22 killer whales.

We need oil to power our cars – but we also abhor the process of getting that oil. This is one of those cases where we just can’t have our cake and eat it too – if we don’t like how we get the oil, then we have to GIVE UP the oil.

Those who frown on offshore drilling are thinking too small; offshore drilling is only part of the problem. We still transport oil over water, regardless of where it may have been drilled. There are also endless tons of exhaust from motor vehicles which gas fueled vehicles spew into the air and into our lungs. We just have to say NO to oil. While it’s easy to make that statement, doing it is not. Vehicles powered by methods other than gas – such as electric cells - are not affordable for most people. Alternative fuel such as electricity are probably not practical at this time for trucks, trains, and ships, which likely throw more garbage into the air than cars and may use far more fossil fuel. And the NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) really come out whenever nuclear power is mentioned.

While I do think it is wise to halt new offshore drilling for now until we are certain that the proper controls are in place to prevent another disaster such as this Gulf oil spill, it will probably become a necessity down the road if we still insist on powering our cars with gas and want to do it at a low cost. If there was ever a call to find alternatives to powering our motor vehicles and to make it affordable to do so, it is now.

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