Moratorium on Offshore Drilling Must be Extended

Sophia Bollag

The six-month moratorium on offshore oil drilling, scheduled to end by Nov. 30 at the latest, must be prolonged in order to protect the environment from further destruction.

Less than a month after President Obama announced his plan to promote offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of some southeastern states, the April 20 BP oil spill in the Gulf prompted the administration to place a six-month moratorium on offshore drilling. Although the temporary moratorium’s proposed time limit is almost up, legislators have made no concrete decisions regarding the faulty safety standards governing offshore drilling. These issues must be addressed before the current moratorium can be lifted because neither the environment nor the economy can stand another oil-related disaster on the magnitude of the BP spill.

The primitive tactics BP used while attempting to fix the leaking rig, the Deepwater Horizon, are downright terrifying. Technologically crude solutions, such as plugging the leak with debris, and cleaning up the oil using hay, dog hair and pantyhose, were suggested and employed in earnest. This was a rude awakening for American citizens who were under the impression that engineering in a first-world country such as our own would be capable of combating problems like the spill with relative ease.

The bottom line is that technology is not advanced enough to allow us to fix technical problems which occur miles under the ocean. The leak itself, which took four months to fix, is testament to this fact, as is the inadequate clean-up of the oil. Although the oil appears to have mostly disappeared from the surface, due mainly to the 1.8 million gallons of dispersant BP dumped in the water, studies suggest that the clean-up is far from over and, at this point, potentially impossible. New research is emerging that indicates the microbes designated to “disperse” the oil have actually just broken it down into small droplets, thus allowing them to sink to the bottom of the Gulf.

Samantha Joye, a professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia, has been studying the environmental impact of the spill for a month by examining sample results from the ocean floor. In some places, she and her team have found up to two inches of oil on top of the silt which makes up the sea floor. “I’ve collected literally hundreds of sediment cores from the Gulf of Mexico… And I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said in an interview with NPR on Sept. 10.

Not only has the spill caused the worst environmental catastrophe in human history, but it has also decimated the fishing industry in the states ringing the Gulf. Prior oil spills have demonstrated that once the water in a region is contaminated, it takes a very long time for the fishing industry to bounce back. For example, the fishing industry in Alaska’s Prince William Sound still has not completely recovered from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which is dwarfed in comparison to the BP spill.

The current standards, which were in place at      the time of the BP disaster, are clearly inadequate. It is both environmentally and economically irresponsible to drill for oil so far underwater that we do not have the appropriate technology to fix problems which might arise. A presidential committee has been commissioned to address the problems created by the oil spill and to assess the flaws in the policies regarding offshore drilling. However, they have come to few definite conclusions as to how these regulations should be improved to prevent spills in the future. At this point, with clearly insufficient safety regulations in place and only primitive technology, there is no safe way for the U.S. to continue offshore oil drilling.