Drill, Maybe, Drill

This LA Times editorial says,

…when many of Santa Barbara’s most determined anti-drilling activists teamed up to back a deal that would allow an oil company to drill under state waters off the city’s coast, it was a jaw-dropping moment.
Just as surprising, given the deal’s powerful backing, was its collapse Thursday, when the State Lands Commission rejected it on a 2-1 vote. The failure shows that, despite high oil prices that turned “Drill, baby, drill” into a Republican mantra last year, it remains phenomenally difficult to expand drilling in California...
Under the publicly disclosed terms of the deal, Plains Exploration & Production Co., which owns a platform in federal waters just beyond the three-mile limit controlled by the state, would have drilled several wells from the platform into oil reserves on state property. In return, it would have closed that platform, three others it operates off Santa Barbara and two onshore processing facilities by 2022 and donated 4,000 acres of land for preservation. Over the life of the project, the state would have collected up to $5 billion in tax revenues.
Bizarrely, the company and the environmental groups that were parties to the bargain kept the rest of its terms confidential. It is not unheard of for environmentalists to sell out the public interest for political or financial reasons, and no elected official should ever approve a secret deal that affects public resources. The company finally announced that it would disclose the full agreement during Thursday’s Lands Commission hearing, but that was months too late.

To this Santa Barbarian, who loves views of the sea, the oil platforms have their charms. They protrude from the planar Pacific like little square islands with christmas lights. And, as infrastructural studies, they’re rather interesting. It turns out that they’re also welcome offshore habitats, as are scuttled or wrecked metal boats.

Which are worse — oil platforms, or the hills of Los Angeles prickling with pump jacks? Pick your poison. Both bargains are Faustian.

The environmental damage risked, much less caused, by offshore drilling, is not a large part of the whole. Lost in most arguments about drilling in Southern California is the fact that up to hundreds of barrels of crude seep into the ocean constantly there, most of it right by UCSB. It stains the water with long streaks of gray-blue oil, much of it spreading from methane — natural gas — bubblings, some of which are trapped and captured by underwater contraptions. Also lost is the fact that offshore drilling on the West Coast contributes a trivial sum to U.S. energy independence.

Civilization is an open laboratory of trade-offs, with a time horizon that is never geological — and human only to the degree that it considers the wants of the living.

I think the best energy bargains are ones involving sun and wind. But there’s not enough of either to satisfy the energy appetites of a human population that has swelled to many billions. So we must continue to eat the Earth until its dead stuffings fail to sustain us.

After that? Who cares? We’ll all be dead by then too. Maybe some successor species will mine our cemeteries.

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5 comments

  1. RBM’s avatar

    Thank you for the follow up post.

    The oil company had been given permission by the U.S. Geological Survey to cut corners and operate the platform with casings below federal and California standards. Investigators would later determine that more steel pipe sheating inside the drilling hole would have prevented the rupture.

    It is sad when it is human misjudgment that is responsible for errors regarding technology that is used by the human animal. Too many times we are monkeys with car keys :(

    RBM

  2. Pauly’s avatar

    Good point on the natural oil seepage, I’ve fouled my shoes on tarballs on Southern California beaches before and had a suspicion that it wasn’t necessarily due to human activities, but rather geological ones.

    But regarding having to satisfy the energy demands of billions, I’m skeptical that we have to continue to “eat the earth” (and despoil at scale). Or at least not consume it at present rates. How many terajoules do tens of billions of people require to achieve a sufficient level of comfort that civilization can continue to produce the art and technology and ideas that lift people out of sub-subsistence poverty?

    And what percentage has to be wasted in order to distribute it when and where needed and to provide a decent but not decadent level of comfort? And I know that answer isn’t zero, some optimal level of waste is a lubricant. But there’s a LOT of unnecessary waste at the supply side (Carnot cycle, baseload) and the demand side (subsidized energy pricing, dumb grid and general lack of disincentives to reduce waste).

  3. Doc Searls’s avatar

    The Chumash made plank boats and sealed them with asphalt from the beaches and cliffs: http://www.sbnature.org/research/anthro/chumash/daily.htm#Canoes

    Mostly they used redwood, which washed up on shore from storms to the north. Redwoods don’t grow in southern California.

    Lessons there, I guess.

  4. RBM’s avatar

    @ Pauly

    You might enjoy this:

    Inventor, engineer and MacArthur Genius Grant-winner Dr. Saul Griffith thought he was an eco-prude, until he audited his total power consumption and learned he burns three times as much energy as the average European, and eight times as much as the average Carribeaner. Watch as he unveils Wattzon.com, a free online tool anyone can use to gain a deep understanding of their total energy footprint – and how to reduce their role in climate change.

  5. John King’s avatar

    Was dead stuck looking for some fast replacement car keys – I’m in Chicago and came across http://www.omegalocksmith.com – one phone call out and problem solved for a cheap price.

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