Why is expanded offshore drilling not the lasting solution to the U.S.’s energy problems? Besides many of the other valid reasons (decades to get to market, potential environmental devastation, oil as a global commodity), Satish Nagarajaiah offers another one:
Billions and billions of dollars in potential storm-related losses.
A civil and mechanical engineering professor at Rice University, Nagarajaiah recently analyzed the impacts on offshore drilling of the powerful 2005 hurricanes, Katrina (which made landfall three years ago today) and Rita. The storms, both of which reached maximum Category 5 strength (winds of up to 175 mph) though weakened before landfall, made their presence felt to some 3,000 offshore platforms and 22,000 miles of pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico.
Of those installations, Katrina and Rita together destroyed 115 platforms and eight rigs. An additional 52 platforms sustained major damage and 19 floating rigs were damaged or set adrift. The storms also damaged 535 segments of pipeline.
The oil-related impacts of Katrina and Rita caused post-storm gas prices to skyrocket in the U.S. And with a new storm, Gustav, now setting its sights on the Gulf Coast, the market repercussions today could be even higher, considering we reached all-time high crude prices earlier this summer.
“If one major deep-water production platform is destroyed, you’re talking about a $1 billion or more loss,” Nagarajaiah said. “If it’s multiple rigs and platforms in a variety of water depths, then we’re talking billions of dollars.”
And, of course, there’s the potential (how much is still uncertain) for hurricanes and tropical storms to increase in either number or intensity in coming decades as we keep pumping more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Couple that with rising sea levels, and expanded offshore drilling hardly seems like a plan for energy security, does it?