About the blog: What Things Are Made Of


The United States relies on imports for dozens of commodities in everyday use. Often enough, that reliance is 100%. In this book I aim to provide awareness of the hidden geology and mineralogy behind common things, and to develop an appreciation for the global resource distribution that underpins our society. While concerns about oil import reliance are in the news every day, our needs for other minerals are comparable and are typically unknown even to technologically aware Americans.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Offshore oil

In the wake of the disastrous oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, visitation to my website’s oil pages has spiked to over 1000 unique visitors a day, as it does when the price goes up or hurricanes or wars interrupt our guzzling. There is plenty of information out there, so I see no need for me to expound on much about the problem. But I need to address one issue, the demand from some that we put an end to offshore drilling and production because it is so dangerous.

I’m as much or more of an “environmentalist” as many are. Most geologists are, because they love the earth. That does not mean we reject the value of earth products, whether oil or copper or neodymium. But those who would eliminate offshore oil exploration and production need to realize one thing.

More than a third (37% in December 2009) of U.S. domestic oil production comes from offshore wells.

Federal offshore areas (mostly in the Gulf of Mexico) produce more oil than any state. More than Texas, more than Louisiana, more than Alaska. More than 2,000,000 barrels a day in December 2009. Shut it off – and replace it how? There is no replacement source that can be tapped economically, if at all. By the time any new discoveries come onstream, in seven to 15 years from now, existing production will have declined by that much or more: we will only maintain the status quo if (IF) we discover and develop that much production. The only significant possible locations for those high-volume discoveries are offshore, and there is no guarantee that it exists at all.

To quote a fine summary (available here), “America simply doesn’t get it.”

Public domain image of offshore platform. Credit: NASA.


EcoRover said...

Let's watch gasoline go to about $5 gallon. I think even Amerikans will start to "get it." Until then, we are the epitome of a short-sighted, unsustainable culture.

Opal said...

Hi Richard. I was curious what you think about the doomsday scenario / methane bubble (a la permian extinction) theory described here: http://www.helium.com/items/1882339-doomsday-how-bp-gulf-disaster-may-have-triggered-a-world-killing-event

I've read about that in a couple of places but it's hard for non-geologists to assess this idea. Maybe you could discuss its merits in a blog post.

Richard Gibson said...

Thanks Opal - I have seen that before and my basic simple answer is that one thing like the BP well is about as likely to trigger such an event as spitting into Old Faithful is likely to trigger a Yellowstone supervolcano eruption. I will try to either post here, or on the oil pages of my web site about this (but not for a while - I'm in the middle of my "other" life - cultural and historic tourism here in Butte). Thanks again for the idea.

Opal said...

thanks for the reply Richard.

Just for a followup, here's a debunking of the story I linked in my comment above: http://io9.com/5585294/