Thursday, May 5, 2011

To Drill or Not to Drill? Offshore Oil Drilling and How it Can Affect You

By Brittany Shann

It has been no secret that gas prices are unstoppably on the rise. In fact, they’ve consecutively gone up each week for the past five weeks. In our rough economy, it gets hard to shell out fifty bucks a week (if not more) to fill our gas tanks. What’s worse, there’s seemingly nothing we can do about it. There are no coupons or discounts and you certainly can’t find any clearance racks at gas stations.  So what are our options? What direction do we turn?

Offshore oil drilling seems to be the most common answer to those questions. People are calling on President Obama to “drill, baby, drill” and stop depending on the Middle East for our resources. In a time of economic crisis, it seems as though we will make environmental sacrifices in order to keep a few bucks in our pockets. Desperate times call for desperate measures, some will say. But will offshore oil drilling really lower gas prices? And what types of consequences are we looking at?

The creation of jobs is a common defense of drilling. Getting rid of our dependence on foreign oil is another. Some advocate the use of alternative energy sources (like electric cars) in order to stop using oil altogether. These issues will be addressed throughout this article, but the ultimate question only concerns easing the pain of the pump – will drilling save us money?

Job Creation: Will Drilling Give Americans More Jobs?

Those in favor of offshore drilling often say that jobs will be created if we were to go through with this.

The American Energy Alliance, an affiliate of the Institute for Energy Research, conducted a study that was able to estimate the amount of jobs that would be created if a state decided to drill. The projections are based on how many oil barrels they estimated to be off the coast. The more oil they estimated, the more jobs would be created.

Joseph Mason, a finance professor at Louisiana State University who was part of the study, estimated that drilling for oil off every coastal state could produce 870,000 jobs nationwide. Virginia alone would gain about 15,000 jobs.

Though there were no projections for New Jersey, it can be safe to assume that since we are a coastal state, there would be many new jobs available if we decided to drill. The numbers give a good insight as to how we would be benefitting from all of this, but is it worth an environmental tradeoff?

What Does Drilling Mean for Our Foreign Dependence on Oil?

Clearly, if we tap into our own resources, we can slowly start to deviate from dependence on foreign oil, specifically in Middle Eastern countries. Being directly dependent on foreign countries provides us with virtually no benefits, aside from conserving our environment. By using the resources from overseas, we are spending money we don’t have and we are possibly jeopardizing our national security.

According to, there are four risks that come with the dependence on foreign oil. These risks are:

- National deficit is widened (gap between imports and exports)

- About a billion dollars a day are being invested in other countries

- Ties to oil producing countries can negatively impact national security

- US demand drives oil prices up

The main concern here is clearly a financial one. Our national debt is soaring and has reached record levels - $14 trillion. By utilizing other countries for our oil supply, we are seemingly sinking money into foreign markets when we could be investing in our own resources. Additionally, many Middle Eastern countries breed terrorism, which is what the United States is currently battling. If we were to sever our ties with foreign oil companies, we would potentially be able to increase our national security by reducing our relations with prospective terrorists.

In this instance, offshore drilling may be the way to go.

How Will the Environment be Impacted?

It’s now about one year after the much talked about BP oil spill. This catastrophe has not only damaged the environment but tainted the reputation of BP. It’s also been a very common argument against offshore oil drilling.

It’s very clear that with drilling, comes environmental risks. How detrimental can these risks be and what is the likelihood of another oil disaster occurring?

According to, oil retrieval from the ocean floor also stirs up other harmful chemicals, like arsenic, lead, and mercury. These chemicals can harm the inhabitants of the ocean once they are released. However, experts say that the chemicals are released at such a minimal level that it ultimately wouldn’t be harmful.

Also, they use seismic waves to help locate oil and this can lead to disorientation of whales and sea mammals. About 100 whales beached themselves in Madagascar after the use of seismic waves. Destruction of marshland is also possible due to the actual drilling and canals used for oil transportation, which has led to erosion.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there has been a 99.999% safety record in offshore drilling since 1975. The amount spilled has decreased from 3.6 million barrels in the 1970s to less than 500,000 in the '90s.

Based on these numbers, the possibility of another oil spill occurring is very low.  But, if it does happen, will the effects be just as harmful as the last one?

Finally, Will Our Gas Prices Be Lowered?

On July 14, 2008, President Bush got rid of the ban on offshore drilling in an effort to reduce oil prices.  Some say it didn’t do anything but just as prices began to reach $4 a gallon, they started to go down.  Prices stayed generally consistent at around $2.50 per gallon for about two or three years until recently.  President Obama has replaced the ban of drilling and now we’re starting to see it at the pump.

Some say it’s just a coincidence; that it would take years, if not decades, for us to see any change in prices if we started drilling.  Experts say that the process of actually obtaining the oil, refining it, dispersing it, and using it takes an extreme amount of time and money, so that we wouldn’t see any relief in the near future.  The Energy Information Association found that increased drilling would have a very small, if any, impact before 2030.  They also found that even once the oil starts flowing, it would only bring in about 0.2 million barrels per day.

Others argue that just by lifting a ban on drilling, it would influence the market to lower prices.  This is what seemingly happened between 2008 and 2010 with President Bush’s decision.  However, other economists argue that the oil industry is part of a global market and since the United States would only be contributing less than one million barrels per day, it wouldn’t do much for the prices.  How would one explain what happened after Bush’s decision?  The theory of supply and demand seems pretty fitting, which would directly benefit us in this situation.

It’s been all laid out – from employment to gas prices.  Drilling would ultimately create jobs, lower our spending on foreign oil, and it has potential to lower prices at the pump.  The environmental impact is lower than one would imagine.  It’s essentially all about priorities – does financial preservation outweigh environmental preservation?  It’s only up to you.

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About the Author

Brittany Shann is a graduating Communication Arts major with a concentration in Writing.  Her academic focus is mainly on the relationship between media and politics and she’s experienced in the journalistic reporting of politics.  She aspires to work in the field of political communication, and her main dream is to be a speechwriter.

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