Environmental impacts outweigh economic benefits in offshore oil drilling. The offshore oil drilling activity has continued for more than 10 years. However, it is difficult to understand why this practice continues. This problem is not without solutions. It is necessary to first discuss the problems before presenting solutions.

Offshore drilling is a major source of pollution, both on land and at sea. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “offshore drilling results in substantial pollution, both oil and gas, from derricks and oil rigs.” Our oceans are in danger until we do something about pollution. How much oil does the world put into its oceans? According to World Research Institute research, “between 3 million and 6,000,000 tons of petroleum are discharged every year into oceans”(Gorman 48). It is roughly equivalent to 4 football-sized stadiums full of oil. It’s been like this for over a ten-year period. In the last decade, 45,000,000 tons of crude oil were dumped into oceans. The oil that ends up in oceans can be a result of several factors. The oil can be deposited in the oceans by drilling accidents or spillages from tankers. The American Oceans Campaign reports that in 1990, “1/8 of all the oil discharged daily occurred in New York-New Jersey Harbor”. Only an eighth is spilled. Think about it for a second. An eighth out of 6 million tonnes is 750,000 metric tons of oil. Large concentrations of crude oil are often devastating to marine life. They can even cause species to become extinct. Christos Paoutsis said that the disposal of oil at sea is neither a feasible nor a desirable solution (Cutter). He is absolutely right. The impact of the current oil spills in the ocean is severe, both on marine life and surrounding environments. Companies that dump crude oil in the oceans are simply not able to anticipate the long-term effects of such actions. The pollution caused by offshore drilling is not limited to marine pollution. Air pollution is also created by offshore drilling in addition to marine pollution. Often when oil companies “come across packages of natural gases which escape into air” (Sisskin), they are “drilled for”. Oil companies have the ability to seize natural gases when they are found, but instead choose not too. Natural gas is then released into the air, where it can cause damage in terms of global warming and also by mixing with other toxins to create poisonous gases. Oil drilling offshore is responsible for more than just pollution.

Offshore drilling has a negative impact on marine life. It also reduces natural resources. Offshore oil drilling will remove the natural resources for which “the world’s eyes will be on the oceans” in the 21stcentury (Environmental News Network). Our marine resources have already been overstressed. In just a few years, we will feel the full impact of ocean depletion. The economies of those countries who rely heavily on oceans will soon collapse. The strain placed on oceans affects the animals that live in the area. One of the leaders in the oil industry, Shell, “has not improved on it’s environmentalperformance in the Niger Delta” (Rowell 101). Over 3 million marine creatures died and the marine life in a quarter-mile area around the oilrig decreased. Imagine a similar impact for all oil platforms, and you can see why marine life has suffered a serious decline. Offshore disasters are not limited to the sea. Oil tanks that are used to transport oil to shore and then store it can be dangerous for the environment. It is estimated that “one quarter of underground fuel stations in the U.S. leaks” (Rowell 100). Leaks from underground reached the waterways and killed both land-based life and marine life. The impact of these leaks on drinking water will be evident when the waterways are reached. Can offshore drilling still be environmentally safe with such pollution? These results were based on a simple leak underground. Oil spills have far more impact on marine wildlife. Only 2,400 California Otters remained after the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. This is a small number when compared with the “nearly two times that number” (AOC) who were killed in the Alaska oil spill. This is about two-thirds of the California Otter population that was lost in a single spill. The California otter is in danger of extinction if oil spills continue at the same rate. It is just one of many species threatened with extinction by offshore oil drilling. Is offshore drilling still worth the maintenance and repairs of offshore rigs, given all these problems? It is clear that the answer to this question is no.

Offshore oil drilling isn’t economically viable. It is the main reason offshore drilling isn’t feasible. “One hundred million barrels (of oil) in a very small area is what makes it viable.” A small area is defined as an area of fifty yards or less. This is extremely rare. The failure to achieve this results in the company losing money, and they will do anything to get it back. To regain profits, it is obvious to build new rigs. The cycle is repeated when the rigs fail to generate a profit. The companies don’t just pay for rigs that aren’t profitable. Fines are imposed on companies that do not follow environmental regulations. Average fines paid by companies are over 8.3 millions dollars. Unfortunately, for most companies, it is not much money. The fines may be high, but they never stop companies from drilling. The Wilderness Society states that the fines for spills were insignificant. The Department of Justice only collected 30 million for all environmental offenses in 1990. It is not cost-effective to develop safety measures for oil rigs, if the costs of dealing with spills are so low. This trend, which is irreversible, will continue until solutions can be found. This will lead to environmental damage that may not be reversible. Offshore drilling companies are often materialistic in their approach, asking only “can we do this” after first asking “how much is it going to cost?” (Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy). Shell is a good example of a large company that has adopted this attitude. Shell knows they can make money from land-based sources, even if there are losses in offshore drilling. They fail to maintain the rigs and cause environmental disasters. It is only in rare situations that offshore drilling can be profitable.

The offshore drilling problem is not insurmountable. In terms of the cost required to implement most solutions, they are trivial (AEPS). Companies won’t change their practices offshore drilling until they understand this. Many companies are aware that they need to find solutions, but instead of doing so, they simply scrap the rig after it has served its purpose. Many companies do not realize that many solutions are less expensive than the maintenance costs of their rigs. Shell’s External Relationship Manager, Onishi, said “whatever you throw in will still be a small drop in the sea”. Shell is unable to make necessary changes to its rigs for them to be environmentally safe due to this attitude. Shell is fined over 3.2 million dollars a year. However, the cost of bringing all their rigs into compliance with standards would only be 1.4 billion. Why haven’t these companies taken this step? They don’t seem to care. What is required to stop this environmental catastrophe? To begin with, a stricter set of laws will go a long way to reducing the environmental impact of offshore drilling. Tax-deductible civil suits are filed for most oil spills like the Exxon Valdez. The company responsible for the oil spill is then charged with civil liability and receives a tax rebate. It was obvious that this is not how fines should work. There will be safety code violations until companies are required to follow a set of mandatory bylaws. Simply restarting oilrigs, which are no longer in use, will “increase supply of energy and reduce environmental hazards without cost to taxpayers.” (California Environmental Resources Evaluation System). This is far superior to building new rigs. The oil companies are the ones who will make the final decisions on how to deal with oil rigs since these solutions cost nothing.

In light of the environmental damage that is caused by offshore drilling, this option is not economically viable. Oil companies do not care about the environmental impact of offshore drilling, including the pollution in the air and on the ocean, or the loss of profits. Will the companies’ current policies change in regards to these issues? No. Not until legislation is passed to force companies into making the necessary changes.


  • noahtaylor

    Noah Taylor is a bloger, teacher, and writer living in upstate New York. He is the author of the highly successful educational blog, Noah's World, and the creator of the popular teacher resource, Noah's Notes. He has also written for many online publications, including Parenting, The Huffington Post, and The Learning Place. Noah is a graduate of Williams College and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.