Sarah Palin and other right-wing media personalities have blamed the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on environmental activists, baselessly claiming that their opposition to coastal drilling has pushed oil companies to drill deep-water wells. This analysis ignores that deep-water regions feature vast oil reserves that make such drilling potentially lucrative.
Conservatives blame environmentalists for spill, baselessly claim protections pushed oil companies to build deep-water drills
Sarah Palin: "Radical environmentalists: you are damaging the planet with your efforts to lock up safer drilling areas." On June 2, Palin took to Facebook to attack "radical environmentalists" who she blamed for "making drilling more dangerous." Palin stated that the oil spill "proves" that environmentalists' "lies about onshore and shallow water drilling" are "catching up with" them. Palin criticized "extreme 'environmentalists'" for supposedly "hypocritically protest[ing] domestic energy production offshore and onshore." She called their efforts "misguided, nonsensical radicalism," and contends that "there's nothing 'clean and green' about [their] efforts." From Palin's post:
This is a message to extreme "environmentalists" who hypocritically protest domestic energy production offshore and onshore. There is nothing "clean and green" about your efforts. Look, here's the deal: when you lock up our land, you outsource jobs and opportunity away from America and into foreign countries that are making us beholden to them. Some of these countries don't like America. Some of these countries don't care for planet earth like we do -- as evidenced by our stricter environmental standards.
With your nonsensical efforts to lock up safer drilling areas, all you're doing is outsourcing energy development, which makes us more controlled by foreign countries, less safe, and less prosperous on a dirtier planet. Your hypocrisy is showing. You're not preventing environmental hazards; you're outsourcing them and making drilling more dangerous.
Extreme deep water drilling is not the preferred choice to meet our country's energy needs, but your protests and lawsuits and lies about onshore and shallow water drilling have locked up safer areas. It's catching up with you. The tragic, unprecedented deep water Gulf oil spill proves it.
Radical environmentalists: you are damaging the planet with your efforts to lock up safer drilling areas. There's nothing clean and green about your misguided, nonsensical radicalism, and Americans are on to you as we question your true motives.
Krauthammer: We're drilling deep because "environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all the Atlantic coasts off-limits to oil production." In a May 28 National Review Online article, Charles Krauthammer blasted environmentalists for driving oil companies into deeper waters. Krauthammer concluded that "we [are] drilling in 5,000 feet of water in the first place" in part because "environmental chic has driven us out there."
Doocy: "Back in the day, they used to just drill pretty close to shore," but environmentalists "pushed them out further and further." On the June 3 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy stated that "back in the day they used to just drill pretty close to shore," but "as the environmentalists said there's a real danger here, they pushed them out further and further." Doocy then cited an editorial in Investor's Business Daily that he said made the "good point" that "questions would this be so tough to cap and stop if it weren't pushed into water almost a mile deep by environmentalists."
IBD: "Environmentalism... help[ed] make" oil spill "possible." In the June 1 editorial cited by Doocy, IBD stated, "Environmentalism did not cause the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, but it did help make it possible," and suggested that "if British Petroleum and others were not barred from drilling in ANWR or in the shallower water of the Outer Continental Shelf, we might not be having this conversation."
Limbaugh: "What the environmentalist wackos are making us do is drill down 35,000 feet." Rush Limbaugh claimed on his May 17 broadcast: "What the environmentalist wackos are making us do is drill down 35,000 feet, 6.6 miles, when there's oil practically begging to be taken out of the ground in areas that are now off-limits because of U.S. regime regulations."
Kristol: If it weren't for restrictions "after the Santa Barbara incident 40 years ago," we would be drilling closer to shore, "which is probably less dangerous." In a May 2 appearance on Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol placed blame for the spill on regulations that pushed drilling "50 miles out from the coast." Kristol called himself a "drill-baby-drill person" and went on to suggest that ANWR land be made available for oil extraction, where "there are no waves, there's no ocean," and it is "perfectly easy to drill." Kristol likened the restrictions on drilling in the Gulf to restrictions on nuclear power after the Three Mile Island meltdown, which he claimed even environmentalists agree "was a wild overreaction."
Increase in deep-water drilling actually due to region's large oil reserves
MMS: "remarkable increase" in deep-water drilling due in part to "finding of reservoirs with high production wells." According to the U.S. Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS): "The deepwater portion of Gulf of Mexico has shown a remarkable increase in oil and gas exploration, development and production. In part this is due to the development of new technologies reducing operational costs and risks, as well as the finding of reservoirs with high production wells. "
MMS report: "Best source of new domestic energy resources lies in the deep water Gulf of Mexico." In a 2004 report -- titled Deep Water: Where the Energy Is -- the MMS stated that "our best source of new domestic energy resources lies in the deep water Gulf of Mexico and other frontier areas." MMS reported that due to "declining production" in "near-shore, shallow waters" in the Gulf of Mexico, "energy companies have focused their attention on oil and gas resources in water depths of 1,000 feet and beyond." MMS estimated that "the deep water regions of the Gulf of Mexico may contain 56 billion barrels of oil equivalent, or enough to meet U.S. demand for 7-1/2 years at current rates."
MMS report: Deepwater drilling is "America's Offshore Energy Future," "significant proved reserves" discovered in recent years. In a 2008 report titled "Deepwater Gulf of Mexico 2008: America's Offshore Energy Future, MMS reported:
The deepwater GOM has contributed major additions to the total reserves in the GOM. Figure 40 shows the proved reserves added each year by water-depth category. Additions from the shallow waters of the GOM declined in recent years but, beginning in 1975, the deepwater area started contributing significant new reserves. Between 1975 and 1983, the majority of these additions were from discoveries in slightly more than 1,000 ft (305 m) of water. It was not until 1985 that major additions came from water depths greater than 1,500 ft (457 m). From 1998 to 2001, significant proved reserves were added in the 5,000- to 7,499-ft (1,524- to 2,286-m) water depth range. The year 2002 saw the first substantial addition from water depths greater than 7,500 ft (2,286 m).
NY Times: BP discovery of "giant oil field" in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico indicated area was "probably the most promising area in United States-controlled territory." A September 2, 2009, New York Times article reported that "BP announced on Wednesday the discovery of what it characterized as a giant oil field several miles under the Gulf of Mexico," which the Times stated "was another indication that the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico are probably the most promising area in United States-controlled territory to bolster domestic oil production." The Times further credited BP's deep-water rigs with having "stabilized domestic production after almost two decades of yearly decline."
Top Chevron official: Deep-water drilling "hugely important," to "global energy market." On June 19, 2008, USA Today described deep-water oil fields as the "final frontier" of oil production. The article quoted Stephen Thurston, Chevron's vice president of deepwater exploration and projects, who stated, "The deep water has been, and really truly is, potentially the next wave of hydrocarbons into the global energy market. It's hugely important." USA Today further reported:
Last year, 130 deepwater projects produced oil, up from 17 a decade earlier, according to Minerals Management Service, the Interior Department agency that leases offshore parcels.
By 2015, Chevron expects deepwater wells to account for one-quarter of offshore oil production vs. 9% today.
Much of the action now is in so-called ultra-deepwater fields beyond 5,000-foot depths. In 2003, Chevron drilled a record-setting well in 10,011 feet of water, and the San Ramon, Calif., oil giant has plans to go even deeper. It's leased two new drill ships from drilling contractor Transocean capable of reaching total well depths of 40,000 feet, including 12,000 feet of water. The first delivery is scheduled next year.
Almost one-third of the world's deepwater rigs are active in the Gulf. Many are prowling an ancient formation called the Lower Tertiary, which sprawls from Texas and Louisiana far offshore and could hold up to 2.8 billion barrels of hydrocarbons.
Chevron's Tahiti field, which the company announced as a major find in 2002, looks like one of the biggest discoveries in the region, potentially containing 400 million to 500 million barrels of oil. It is scheduled to begin producing 125,000 barrels a day next year.
Transocean issued a report in February 2010 showing "significant quarterly revenue" from its deepwater rigs. A May 27 backgrounder issued by the Council on Foreign Relations reported that in February, Transocean Ltd. -- which owned the Deepwater Horizon rig -- "posted significant quarterly revenue from its ultra-deepwater rigs, while revenue from its shallow-water rigs declined." CFR further reported that "nearly half Transocean's shallow-water rigs have been idle, while its ultra-deepwater rigs were booked through the end of the year." CFR credited the surge in deepwater drilling to the fact that it "just started becoming economically profitable and technically feasible on a large scale."
Oil companies continue to drill in large portions of coastal and shallow waters
Wash. Post reported that shallow-water drilling permits were issued before and after the Deepwater Horizon incident. A June 3 Washington Post article quoted Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as explicitly stating that "there is no moratorium on shallow water drilling." The article explained that "there are more than 40 rigs drilling in shallow water in the Gulf of Mexico." Additionally, Jim Noe, the general counsel for "Hercules, the largest operator of shallow water jack rigs in the Gulf," noted that "[o]ver 46,000 wells have been drilled in the Gulf of Mexico offshore in less than 1,000 feet of water since 1949."
MMS: There are 3,417 active shallow-water platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. The "Frequently Asked Questions" section of the MMS website notes that "the only remaining OCS area off-limits is currently the Eastern Gulf of Mexico within 125 miles of Florida, off the coast of Alabama, and a portion of the Central Gulf within 100 miles of Florida." A map (detail) of active offshore drilling leases shows extensive activity on the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and parts of Florida. Additionally, MMS data shows that there are 3,417 active platforms operating at depths of less than 1,000 feet, whereas there are only 25 active platforms operating at water depths of more than 1,000 feet.