A slightly confusing report has just dropped into my inbox from the German consultancy EnergyComment. It carries the provocative title Offshore oil drilling: Public costs and risks are too high and states (underlining the author’s own):
A ban on all new offshore oil drilling is justified as the risks are too high relative to the rewards.
This is considerably more hardline than the current position even of the US government, which has implemented a six-month ban on new deepwater drilling (in this case, drilling at depths of over 500ft).
But when I look for the justification for such an assertion, it is difficult to find. Much of the report focuses on the problems that come with depth, rleaving out shallower drilling altogether. It also seems to set a high bar on what is a “justified risk”. Here’s a sample argument:
The challenges that increase with depth, such as pressure and pressure differentials that need to be contained by the technical infrastructure, high temperatures and large temperature differences that may generate gas hydrates and complicate cementing processes, can not be reliably performed at the quality level necessary to avoid all accidents.
The report does throw up some interesting findings, such as a case study of a blowout in the Gulf of Mexico 31 years before the BP oil spill, which bears remarkable similarities with this year’s disaster. But its case is undermined by sloppy arguments such as the claim that there is a failure rate of blowout preventers, such as the one that failed in the BP oil spill, of 45 per cent. A closer look at the footnotes however, reveals that the author does not mean that 45 per cent of blowout preventers fail, but that in five out of 11 examined cases of a loss of control at oil wells, the blowout preventer had failed.
EnergyComment are tilting against prevailing government opinion (the UK’s department of energy told me today, “We have a policy of maximising the exploitation of the North Sea’s resources”). But to convince hostile policy makers, it will have to do more than simply listing various risks of offshore drilling, which are well known, and then declaring them “unacceptable”.