An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Is Judge's Deepwater Drilling Strike-down an Informed Decision?

This is why I like democracies! Its allows the three branches – Executive, Judiciary and Legislature to keep checks and balances on each other.

After the BP oil spill, Obama administration had made the very unpopular decision to ban any more offshore drilling. There was a large hue and cry on the coasts, where the communities’ jobs depended on that activity. And it was like a double whammy – they were the worst affected by actions / risks taken by greedy corporates and now, the Government was taking away the opportunity for their livelihood.

So in comes a federal judge and strikes down the Obama administration’s six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, he says that Government acted rashly when it concluded (inherent in the ban decision) that just because one rig failed, the others were in immediate danger as well.

The Interior Department had recently stopped approvals for any new permits for deepwater drilling and suspended drilling of 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf already!

White House is not going to sit quiet, and has promised appeal. The companies affected had already appealed to the US District Judge in New Orleans to overturn the Obama administration moratorium, but it took a federal judge to do it.

In a popular oil conference in London today some executives said the moratorium would cripple the overall world energy supplies.

Methane Threat in Deepwater

The situation, however, is not so simple. There are many angles to it. According to DK Matai, Chairman and Founder of risk management firm

A new and less well known asymmetric threat has surfaced in the Gulf of Mexico oil gusher. Methane or CH4 gas is being released in vast quantities in the Gulf waters. Seismic data shows huge pools of methane gas at the location immediately below and around the damaged “Macondo” oil well.

This could mean many risks currently not clearly understood. Some of the risks to the marine life that we do not clearly understand could be from depletion of oxygen itself:

Scientists warn that gases such as methane, hydrogen sulfide and benzene, along with oil, are now depleting the oxygen in the water and are beginning to suffocate marine life creating vast “dead zones”. As small microbes living in the sea feed on oil and natural gas, they consume large amounts of oxygen which they require in order to digest food, ie, convert it into energy. There is an environmental ripple effect: when oxygen levels decrease, the breakdown of oil can’t advance any further.

The presence and escape of methane gas which is currently contained as a bubble under that place can lead to several catastrophic events. Three are mentioned by DK Matai in his article:

1. Loss of Buoyancy

Huge methane gas bubbles under a ship can cause a sudden buoyancy loss. This causes a ship to tilt adversely or worse. Every ship, drilling rig and structure within a ten mile radius of the escaping methane bubble would have to deal with a rapid change in buoyancy, causing many oil structures in its vicinity to become unstable and ships to sink. The lives of all the workers, engineers, coast guard personnel and marine biologists — measuring and mitigating the oil plumes’ advance and assisting with the clean up — could be in some danger. Therefore, advanced safety measures should be put in place.

2. First Tsunami with Toxic Cloud

If the toxic gas bubble explodes, it might simultaneously set off a tsunami travelling at a high speed of hundreds of miles per hour. Florida might be most exposed to the fury of a tsunami wave. The entire Gulf coastline would be vulnerable, if the tsunami is manifest. Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and southern region of Georgia might experience the effects of the tsunami according to some sources.

3. Second Tsunami via Vaporisation

After several billion barrels of oil and billions of cubic feet of gashave been released, the massive cavity beneath the ocean floor will begin to normalise, allowing freezing water to be forced naturally into the huge cavity where the oil and gas once were. The temperature in that cavity can be extremely hot at around 150 degrees celsius or more. The incoming water will be vaporised and turned into steam, creating an enormous force, which could actually lift the Gulf floor. According to computer models, a second massive tsunami wave might occur.

Unfortunately, the decisions and debate may have been addressed by emotions as opposed to informed decisions from every participant.

What do you think? Was the Ban good or not? And is the strikedown good or bad?

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