Environment vs Big Oil & Gas | The Jackal

22 Sep 2011

Environment vs Big Oil & Gas

We all know that our reliance on petroleum-based products will come to an end, the question is when and how much damage is going to be caused in the mean time.

The difficulty is that we've built our entire system around cheap oil with little consideration for the environment. Even when informed of the danger, mankind is failing to change its habits.

It's not a lack of knowledge or that there's any relevance to the arguments made by climate change sceptics; it's that we're inexorably chained to a petroleum based economy, and the people who are meant to represent us are representing the oil and gas industry instead.

Nearly every aspect of our lives rely on oil in some way, and it's a hard habit to break, even when information gives people the willpower to do so. A couple of days ago National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gave us another reason to change our ways with a very sobering to read
During the 9 weeks active surface oil burning, a total of 1.4 to 4.6 million pounds (0.63 to 2.07 million kilograms) of black carbon was sent into the atmosphere, according to a new study published last week by researchers at NOAA and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).

The study found that the hot soot plumes from the controlled burns reached much higher into the atmosphere than ship emissions normally rise, potentially prolonging the amount of time the black carbon can remain in the atmosphere, which would affect where the black carbon ends up.

The researchers also found that the average size of the black carbon particles was much larger than that emitted from other sources in the Gulf region, and that the emitted particles produced were almost all black carbon, unlike other sources such as forest fires that tend to produce other particles along with black carbon.
Over a year after the major Deepwater Horizon disaster, the extent of the impact on the environment and people's health is only just starting to fully emerge. Not to be underestimated, there will of course be no recompense for the addition negative impact from the controlled burns.

In June this year, an international team of more than 50 researchers coordinated by the UN Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization, said that fast action to curb soot and smog could improve human health, generate higher crop yields, reduce climate change and slow the melting of the Arctic. 
"Big cuts in emissions of black carbon will improve respiratory health [and] reduce hospital admissions and days lost at work due to sickness," the two United Nations agencies said in the release. "Close to 2.5 million premature deaths from outdoor air pollution could, on average, be avoided annually worldwide by 2030."

I guess BP and the so-called clean up operation didn't know about that. To compound that mismanagement further, in March this year it was reported that black carbon could cause up to 60% of the current warming effect of carbon dioxide, according to US researchers, making it an important target for efforts to slow global warming.
"The aerosols in aggregate are either acting to, you could say, cool the atmosphere or mask the effect of CO2," said Carmichael, "[Black carbon] is the only component of this aerosol mix that in and of itself is a heating element."
Despite this information and the high risk deep sea oil drilling still poses (because there's no further advances in drilling or cleanup technology), there's been a huge increase in deep sea drilling for oil worldwide.

According to federal statistics, there are 23 rigs currently drilling wells in water deeper than 3,000 feet in the Gulf of Mexico alone, with BHP Billiton PLC and Chevron Corp. last week finding large reserves over 100 miles out to sea in depths of more than 4,000 feet of water.

Federal regulators probing the Deepwater Horizon disaster have recently recommended numerous changes to increase safety and this has meant a burst of activity as the industry tries to get as many wells drilled before the government belatedly toughens its oversight of offshore drilling.

There's no doubt that the cavalier nature of the oil industry needs to be reigned in. A letter (PDF) written in January by Rep. Raul M. Grijalva - House Committee on Natural Resources to President Barack Obama shows systemic failings in both the industries business conduct and the governmental oversight of the oil and gas industry.

When there's so much at stake, we cannot allow the oil and gas industry to continue to be self-regulated... especially when their cost cutting leads to huge environmental disasters like the Deepwater Horizon.