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283). This led to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). This Act acknowledged the fact that there was a lack of knowledge about the ocean ecosystem. This was an important insight and "At its core, NEPA requires federal agencies to produce an environmental impact statement (EIS) whenever they propose a major federal action" but " it was unclear from the original language of the statute whether the lease of oil exploration rights was covered" (Rothbach, 2007, p. 283). However, in 1978 Congress amended this Act with regard to the current state of the law governing the leasing of offshore oil exploration rights. The 1978 amendments "…specifically state that if a plan for development and exploration of offshore oil resources is a major federal action, then an EIS must be produced" (Rothbach, 2007, p. 283). These events were to contribute to the growing concern about the environmental impact of offshore oil exploration
It is also significant to note other events in the past that indicates the negative consequences of offshore oil exploration. Kaplan (1982) refers to the leasing for oil and gas off Santa Barbara in 1967. It was felt that a moratorium on this lease was needed as, "…oil spill containment and cleanup technology was still primitive, and the abundant populations of birds, marine mammals, and fish could be at considerable risk" (Kaplan, 1982, p. 4).
This has led to a history of environmental and other objections to offshore explorations. It is perhaps appropriate to reiterate the central aspects of this debate at this point. The controversy about offshore oil can be summarized as follows. There is dissension in the first place about the value of offshore drilling in terms of both the environment and the economic outcomes. Those who advocate greater access to oil exploration are of the opinion that this would reduce oil and gas prices, as well as reducing dependence on overseas oil. They also assert that this will have only as minimal impact on the environment.
On the other side of the debate are those who advocate the view that greater oil exploration off the coast will have little if any impact on the price of oil and, more importantly, it would have extreme and negative consequences on the environment. There are also other dimensions to this debate, which include accusations of vested interest from both sides.
In essence this leads to the central theme and thesis of this paper -- that the international community faces an extremely serious environmental challenge as a result of continued offshore oil drilling. An example of the consequences to the environment of offshore oil drilling is as follows:
Whenever oil is recovered from the ocean floor, other chemicals and toxic substances come up too -- things like mercury, lead and arsenic that are often released back into the ocean. In addition, seismic waves used to locate oil can harm sea mammals and disorient whales. ExxonMobil recently had to suspend exploration efforts near Madagascar after more than 100 whales beached themselves.
Boesch et al. ( 1987) distinguish ten categories of potential long-term environmental effects of offshore oil and gas development activities these include;
chronic biological effects resulting from the persistence of medium and high molecular weight aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclics and their degradation products in sediments and cold environments;
the residual damage from oil spills to biogenically structured communities;
effects of physical fouling by oil of aggregations of birds, mammals and turtles;
effects of produced water discharges into nearshore rather than open shelf environments;
effects of noise and other physical disturbances on populations of birds, mammals and turtles;
effects of artificial islands and causeways & #8230; on benthos and anadromous fish species. (Boesch et al., 1987, p. 3)
There is also research that indicates that the transporting of oil poses possible threats that may in fact be greater than the threat to the environment from the actual drilling; for example one study found that, "In Louisiana, the 10,000 miles of canals dug to transport oil and lay pipelines contribute to coastal erosion because the canals crisscross the state's coastal wetlands" (Connors, 2009).
The literature on this topic provides some valuable studies on the actual impact of offshore explorations on the environment. A case in point is the Niger Delta. In an article on this area Fentiman (1996) states that one should not forget the impact of oil exploration on the culture of the people who live at the coast. This study investigates the impact of oil exploration on the Ibani fishing community, which "… has experienced both environmental and cultural degradation" (Fentiman, 1996). This extract from the research paints an alarming picture of the larger and often unseen damage caused by offshore oil drilling. This is quoted at length as it reveals a significant insight into the results of offshore exploration.
Our traditional livelihood is fishing, but there are no more fish. We now buy tinned fish or stock fish. The chemicals from oil spillage have mined the fish as well as the esem (periwinkles) and mgbe (mangrove oysters). We receive nothing from Shell. & #8230;. Behind Ayaminima, the neighboring village, there used to be a small creek that was used when there was a storm and during the rainy season when the Bonny River was rough. But now Shell has closed it; they dredged it and filled it up with all their oil pipes.
This study also refers to more direct consequences of oil exploration, such as oil spillage and erosion and its effect on the community.
The debate about increased access to offshore oil exploration continues in both a political and policy sense as well as in relation to environmental concerns. There is little doubt that offshore oil exploration can have negative consequences for marine life and the coastal regions. However, the extent of these consequences is not yet known with any great certainty. Nevertheless, there are sufficient studies and reports that provide evidence of the destructive environmental consequences of oil exploration.
What is equally true is that in the present economic climate and taking into consideration the diminishing oil reserves in the world, further offshore oil exploration seems inevitable. In this regard some critics have suggested that a compromise in this debate has become necessary. Rothbach (2007) suggests that there should be an "alignment of interests" on both sides of the debate and that the policy makers should "…bring the environmental lobby on board"(Rothbach, 2007). This will go some way to reducing the division between the opposing parties will be a start in addressing the central challenges posed by offshore oil drilling.
Baird, S.L. (2008). Offshore Oil Drilling: Buying Energy Independence or Buying Time?. The Technology Teacher, 68(3).
Boesch, D.F., Butler, J.N., Cacchione, D.A., Geraci, J.R., Neff, J.M., Ray, J.P., et al. (1987). Chapter 1 an Assessment of the Long-Term Environmental Effects of U.S. Offshore Oil and Gas Development Activities: Future Research Needs. In Long-Term Environmental Effects of Offshore Oil and Gas Development, Boesch, D.F. & Rabalais, N.N. (Eds.) (pp. 1-53). London: Elsevier Applied Science. Retrieved March 14, 2010, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=108893334
Boesch, D.F. & Rabalais, N.N. (Eds.). (1987). Long-Term Environmental Effects of Offshore Oil and Gas Development. London: Elsevier Applied Science. Retrieved March 14, 2010, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=108893325
Bradley, S.B. (1982). The Politics of Offshore Oil (J. Goldstein, Ed.). New York: Praeger.
Britton, P. (1992, January). Offshore Oil: How Deep Can They Go?. Popular Science, 240, 80+. Retrieved March 14, 2010, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5035575517
Connors J. ( 2009) Offshore Drilling: Worth the Oil, or False Hope? Retrieved from http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/02/offshore-drilling-oil-false-hope.php
Fentiman, a. (1996). The Anthropology of Oil: The Impact of the Oil Industry on a Fishing Community in the Niger Delta. Social Justice, 23(4).
Horton J. Why is offshore drilling so controversial? Retrieved from http://www.howstuffworks.com/offshore-drilling-controversy.htm/printable
Kaplan, E.R. (1982). 1 California: Threatening the Golden Shore. In the Politics of Offshore Oil, Goldstein, J. (Ed.) (pp. 3-26). New York: Praeger. Retrieved March 14, 2010, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=106972061
Rothbach, D. (2007). Rigs-to-Reefs: Refocusing the Debate in California. Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum, 17(2), 283+.
Some interesting oil industry statistics ( 2009) Retrieved from http://www.gravmag.com/oil.html
Stanke, S. (2002). Like Wilderness, but Need Oil? Securing America's Future Energy Act Puts Little between Accident-Prone Oil Companies and the Arctic National Wildlife…[continue]
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