4 November 2010
Deep Water Oil Well Drilling
For the last century finding a cheap supply of a sustainable energy source has been one of the major policies of the United States. Since the later stages of the industrial revolution and the first gasoline powered car were invented there has been an insatiable demand for petroleum. Oil well drilling first began onshore and then eventually led to shallow water drilling and finally deep water drilling as the technology evolved. Over the last twenty five years there have been major technology advancements which enabled oil companies to go further out and drill deeper in the ocean. Along with this advancement came several environmental issues. With the huge size of the oil platforms and with the amount of oil produced each day, the impact of a leak or explosion would be huge if not contained in time. Over the years different governmental agencies have put in place many regulations and policies to make sure that the right measures are taken when building and operating an oil platform. As a result of the recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (British Petroleum Horizon) many questions have been raised. Should the current deep water oil well drilling policies regulations and policies be revised?
In 1887 H.L Williams drilled the first shallow water offshore well. The drill was placed on a wooden barge extending 300 feet into the continental shelf off Summerland, California. At first wells were only limited to shallow water drilling but in 1940 the emergence of free standing and floating wells enabled rigs to move further out into deeper water. By 1949 there were eleven oil producing fields and approximately 49 wells producing oil in the Gulf of Mexico. “ By the 1950s’ the United State government began responding to increased concerns regarding offshore jurisdictions, environmental impacts of offshore activities, economic factors and safety(Mastrangelo 3)” This led to legislative and regulatory issues that were later put in place to create a “reliable, safe energy supply with minimal environmental impacts and fair price to all parties. (Mastrangelo 3)”
Since the expansion of drilling and the invention of new technology, the debate about leasing off shore lands for the exploration started. The first court case was in 1947, United States v. California Coast, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government owned the land and undersea resources for the first three nautical miles of the California coast (United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19 (1947)). But later in 1953 Congress reversed the decision with the Submerged Land Acts of 1953 which gave the state title to the first three nautical miles. Also in 1953 the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act allowed the government to grant leases for mineral development in the offshore areas beyond territory controlled by the states. These leases are put out to bid every 5 years and the next time to renew will be June 30, 2012( Mastrangelo 4). Every 5 years when a new lease is being awarded, which is part of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 the Mineral Management Service (MMS) requires an Environment Impact Statement (EIS)(Mastrangelo 4).
For the past 28 years funds needed for leasing Outer Continental Shelf (OSC) areas have not been provided to the MMS. Therefore they cannot lease undersea resources to a company. The government has proposed this moratorium to prevent drilling in certain areas that they believe are sensitive and could cause economic or environmental damage. The first OCS moratoriums imposed in 1982 covered 736,000 acres off the California coast. From 1982 to 1992 Congress imposed a moratorium on six other areas through the Interior Appropriations Bill. In 1990 President Bush issued a “Presidential Directive that enacted a blanket moratorium until 2000 on all unleashed areas offshore Northern and Central California, Southern California except 87 tracts, Washington, Oregon, the North...
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