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Coastal Voices: Another view on oil drilling

Rep. Mike Thompson had an opinion piece in The Triplicate on May 15 recommending no more offshore drilling for California. As a retired civil engineer with 20 years’ experience in the oil industry, I respectfully disagree and provide the following rebuttal opinion.

Rep. Thompson contends that the risks of offshore drilling are too great and that it should not be done off California. He further contends there is not sufficient oil off California to justify drilling and that an incredible amount of marine habitat could be damaged beyond repair. He also contends that tourism and fishing would be hurt. He opines that California’s future is in renewable energy recognizing that this is decades away.

First: What are the risks of oil spills? Since 1958 (52 years) there have been 76 oil spill incidents worldwide of which 68 involved tankers. Seven involved drilling rigs and platforms. One was a burst pipeline. Including the current spill in the Gulf of Mexico, only two have been in American waters. The second biggest spill was in Mexican waters in 1979, and some effects reached the Texas coast. Considering that several thousand wells have been drilled and installed over a period of 52 years with only eight incidents, the probabilities of a spill occurring at any new installation is miniscule to almost none.

Second: What about drilling and platform spills? The largest spill was caused by Iraq in the Persian Gulf at the end of the Gulf War. It was on the order of 95 million barrels. The second largest spill was in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979 in Mexican waters. It took nine months to shut it down and was about 3 million barrels. The current spill in the Gulf of Mexico is reported as flowing at about 4,500 barrels per day. Past spills have been costly, have impacted flora and fauna and have caused varying degrees of transitory environmental damage. It is to be emphasized that damage was transitory and that all spills were cleaned up.

Third: What about tanker spills? Tanker spills are around 10 times more frequent than platform spills. These can be problematical because they tend to be closer to coast lines and cleanup equipment may not be immediately available. California has been lucky having had only one tanker spill in 52 years.

Fourth: What about oil and gas prospects off California? These cannot be known without proper exploration. Leases to explore and develop can bring considerable money to the state even if oil and gas are not found. If oil and/or gas are found, this could be a bonanza. Besides income to the state there would be all sorts of expansion in the private economy including petrochemicals.

Fifth: What about impacts on tourism and fishing? This is subjective but a few platforms scattered along hundreds of miles of coast are not likely to have much effect on either activity. It is not that the California fishing industry is currently on a down trend. An offshore oil industry would likely employ many ex-fishermen.

Conclusion: Every industry including offshore oil has accidents. Over a period of 52 years and several thousand wells installed worldwide, there have only been eight spills of which the largest was a deliberate act of war. All were cleaned up and long-lasting environmental impacts have been minimal to none. The oil industry has the financial strength to provide cleanup and remediation even for the worst spills.

Recommendation: Based on the existing facts regarding oil spills, California should not hesitate to explore and develop all of its offshore oil and gas potential. Risks are minimal to none and the potential rewards to the state and its citizens are enormous.

Andrew Lamore is a Crescent City resident.

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