Oil rig disasters highlight current energy crisis

By Adam Brown

On Sept. 2, a fire broke out on an oil rig platform 13 miles from the coast of New Orleans. Of the 13 crew members aboard, 12 managed to escape unscathed, with one suffering minor injuries.

The following day, a tense anxiety gripped the otherwise Big Easy, whose citizens feared a repeat of the BP spill and the inexorable slew of oil executives distorting reality, New Orleans’ reality, for the sake of stock prices.

But the second spill never materialized; like the remaining mess in the gulf, concerns over the dangers of offshore drilling crashed onto the shores of American consciousness in diminishing waves, as most of us pushed the news story entirely out of our minds.

Unlike the previous spill, whose effects will linger in the Gulf for decades, the threats associated with offshore oil extraction do not diminish over time. They remain as present as ever, and will only continue to rise as additional leases for drilling are granted to energy corporations.

Simply put, America cannot afford another ecological catastrophe on the scale of what BP left us. The United States and its citizens must answer the call to action and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Threats ranging from global warming and mass extinction to national security and foreign policy hinge on America’s endless appetite for cheap energy.

This is something many voters recognize. And yet, in spite of that, a massive campaign in defense of energy companies responsible for such policies is battering public opinion to accept the status quo.

The U.S. Department of the Interior estimates that, between territory in Alaska and along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, there lie 68 billion barrels of untapped oil. An impressive amount, surely, until the quantity of oil the United States consumes in a given timeframe is factored in; according to the same agency, U.S. daily consumption of oil (as of 2009) stands at 18.77 million barrels-or 6.8 billion barrels annually.

Even if we were able to successfully utilize our entire reserves (excluding the costs of extraction both in dollars and environmental degradation), such drilling could only sustain current demands for 10 years.

This, and others facts like it, fail to be realized in the mindless rhetoric of “drill, baby, drill.”

The United States can appropriately recognize and challenge the risks of ignoring the pending environmental crises.

Sabiha Daudi, assistant professor of environmental education, said that addressing environmental issues “can be done when long term strategies are planned and implemented through education. We can definitely not afford another environmental catastrophe like the BP spill.”

We Americans have notoriously short memories. We failed to learn after the energy cartel OPEC formed in 1965. We failed to change our strategy following the 1973 oil crisis. We failed to develop alternative energy sources after the first Persian Gulf War lead to huge spikes in gas prices.

And I fear, with more than 60 percent of Americans supporting the continuation of offshore drilling to this day, we may very well fail again.