I don’t know much about offshore drilling for oil and gas. But, then, I’m not sure that many vociferous opponents of drilling off the Virginia coast know much about it either.
A case in point is a quote, reported in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, by Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-4th:
As we learned from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, accidents can be unimaginably destructive, devastating the marine environment, wrecking entire industries and potentially affecting the health of local residents.
McEachin said he would resist offshore drilling “every step of the way.”
Yes, Deepwater Horizon was an environmental disaster. But is that catastrophe a useful comparison for offshore drilling in Virginia? Deepwater Horizon was drilling a deep exploratory well at a depth of about 5,100 feet. The drilling took place in conditions of massive water pressure that would be absent on the continental shelf of the Virginia coast where the average water depth is about 200 feet.
An appropriate comparison would be with offshore drilling operations taking place on the continental shelf in the Gulf of Mexico. According to LiveScience, 1.3 million gallons of petroleum are spilled into U.S. waters from vessels and pipelines in a typical year. Between 1971 and 2000, U.S. Outer Continental Shelf offshore facilities and pipelines accounted for only 2 percent of the volume of oil spilled in U.S. waters.
Compare that to the volume of oil that naturally seeps from the seafloor. A single seep, Coal Oil Point on the California coast, releases about 10,000 gallons per day — about 3.6 million barrels yearly — according to the Stop Oil Seeps California website. Has that turned the coastline into an ecological disaster zone?
Here’s what the Coal Oil Point Reserve website has to say about the wildlife there:
One of the best remaining examples of a coastal-strand environment in Southern California, the Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve protects a wide variety of coastal and estuarine habitats. Largely undisturbed coastal dunes support a rich assemblage of dune vegetation and rare wildlife, including the dune spider, the globose dune beetle and the threatened Western Snowy Plover. …
Thousands of migratory birds visit throughout the year. Coal Oil Point Reserve is part of Audubon’s Important Bird Area (IBA) and it is visited daily by birders. …
Vernal pools host a number of rare and endemic species. At low tide, the intertidal and subtidal zones at the reserve provide an opportunity to observe the rich assemblage of invertebrates and algae living on the rock formations.
Not exactly a toxic hellhole.
The conditions in Virginia are not the same as in California; they aren’t the same as in the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe a sober-minded analysis would show that offshore drilling would pose a genuine threat to Virginia’s precious coastal environment. I await that study. In the meantime, I’m not paying much heed to politician’s heated rhetoric regarding topics about which they know nothing.