11/11/2014 02:30 pm ET Updated Jan 11, 2015

Offshore Oil and the Energy Debate

We are locked in a political debate over energy. On one side are those who wish to extract as much oil, gas, and minerals from the earth as fast as possible and convert it to profit; on the other, those who wish to sustain such resources, develop and transition to less polluting alternatives, and invent more efficient processes and products that will enable equal, more equitable growth worldwide. Everywhere you look, there is a battle engaged over our energy future -- near and long term -- with interests vested in the status quo up against interests vested in change and a sustainable future.

The debate pits those benefiting most from the present systems and its profits against those who assess the ecological and political damage from such reliance and the future implications of resultant climate change, diminished resources, and capacity to meet the predictable demands of the growing world population. It is a battle for gratification now vs. survival then.

The ability of the vested energy interests to maintain (even accelerate) the consumption agenda is evident in the political stalemate in legislatures, the lobbying and advertising, the denial of any science that challenges the conventional assumptions, and the pressure to discover more and extract it quick regardless of consequence. And the area of interest where the greatest potential and greatest danger lies is the ocean.

Ocean News and Technology
is an excellent monthly publication that provides a comprehensive survey of ocean industry, transportation, science, technology, defense, and underwater cultural discovery worldwide. An editorial in the October 2014 issue describes the status of the offshore oil exploration and licensing in the United States as follows: "A routine call for public comment on the next 5-year offshore oil leasing plan has provided the industry with a rare opportunity to expand the federal program beyond the measly 13 percent of the U.S. offshore region currently open to drilling. Influential industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute have been after politicians, spanning numerous election cycles, to allow companies more access to federal waters through leasing. These efforts have largely failed."

The editorial continues, "But the stars are aligned this time around. Backed by reputable opinion polls reflecting overwhelming support for more offshore exploration and development, industry advocates now have the public's backing as they do battle against the environmental community as well as President Obama's so-called "All-of-the-Above" energy policy, which on the oil and gas side has thus far produced nothing but declining production of federal acreage both offshore and onshore."

The map illustrating the present situation shows the 87% of the area along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and western Alaska. The two areas presently open are the central area of the Gulf where drilling has been fully developed for many years and which includes the site of the massive Deepwater Horizon spill, and off the most northern coast of Alaska in the Beaufort Sea -- areas of high urban density and ecological resources.

To be expected, the industry argument neglects to include the fact that in recent years through increased production on land through hydraulic fracturing, overall U.S. energy production has been transformed dramatically from an import to an export economy that, along with alternative energy supply, meets the national requirement without any additional capacity from any new license areas. The industry demand for additional access, in offshore water and even federal grazing lands and national parks, seems excessive and unrelated to actual need other than to sustain the company's profits. World oil prices are significantly decreased and the market disrupted by this new supply; opinion polls exist that certainly counter the editorial assertion of majority public support; 400,000 people walk the streets of New York to protest industry endeavor; claims of improved safety are excepted almost daily by reports of additional polluting accidents and spills; certain states have succeeded in incentivizing alternative energy technology and production, capturing market share--all these factors argue against any compelling need to open new areas for development other than narrow corporate interest.

The energy industry has transformed the American landscape -- removed mountain tops, scarred vast areas of open pits, destroyed agricultural lands, poisoned aquifers, lakes, streams, rivers, and coastal wetlands, fouled offshore areas now devoid of oxygen where no life can survive, produced emissions that contaminate our air and acidify our waters, fought emission controls and environmental regulations every step of the way, justified wars, and otherwise promoted behavior indifferent to human and community health. Why would we even think of permitting them to despoil anything more? Why would we trust them with the ocean?