Does everybody remember the 2006 disaster where the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig went boom and the pipe drawing oil from under the Gulf of Mexico severed at the bottom? Remember how it took a long time to patch the leak because the pipe was so deep in the water? BP was even asking for ideas from the public on how they could fix this while in the meantime the entire gulf was being contaminated with oil? Well, forget about all that. Apparently, it's irrelevant. With no great leaps in technology, we're going to stormier waters to drill much, much, much deeper under the ocean surface using drilling ships. There used to be regulations in place that required companies to prove they had a reasonable contingency plan in place in event of a worst case scenario before they'd be permitted to drill offshore, but those regulations got in the way of "progress" so they were left by the roadside long ago.
So what are the real risks associated with drilling beneath miles of water? Well, of course there's the risk that we could end up of a repeat of what happened in the Gulf of Mexico, but only worse because if the pipe broke at the bottom under 2 miles of water, the technology simply does not exists today that would allow us to fix it. Oil would flood out into the ocean at extreme pressure for years, even decades contaminating nearby coastlines and destroying the fishing industry of entire countries, to say nothing of permanently wrecking a lot of tourist hotspots. But could it be worse than even this? Well, yes, it could. You see these undersea oil reservoirs exist under over a mile of water. The oil is under extreme pressure and this pressure helps to support the rock above the reservoir, which in turn carries the weight of the water. If we drain the oil, we reduce the pressure, and may even remove it entirely if we siphon virtually all of the oil. This opens up the possibility that one of these oil reservoirs could collapse, and let me just say that these reservoirs are generally huge.
If a large undersea tapped reservoir were to collapse, the water above would flood in at high speed, and water from around the perimeter would rush in to fill the space above the hole, colliding at the center and creating a mountainous swell of water. This mountain of water would then fall sending out a huge wave in all directions, potentially devastating surrounding coastlines and killing lots of people. It is also possible that a reservoir could collapse before it is tapped of oil, leaving the remaining millions of metric tonnes of crude exposed, a portion of which would likely be carried by the resulting big wave, and the rest could potentially be sufficient to outright kill our ocean (as in destroy virtually all ocean life in a very short time). After all, it only takes a small amount to crude oil to contaminate thousands of liters of water.
So what can we do about this? Sadly, I feel the answer is "Nothing". There will always be a demand for oil, be it for energy, production of synthetic materials, or gasoline. Of course we can use bio-methane (extracted from sewage and garbage) and solar, wind, and tidal energy to power our cities and charge electric vehicles, and protein and saccharide based polymers (created from plant sources) for materials, but we're not going to do that on any meaningful scale as long as even one drop of oil still exists in the ground. So I guess this is all just a heads up for things to come. If you're a fisherman or part of the fishing industry, you may want to get an early start on finding another line of work. If you enjoy the beach, get as much out of your time there as possible, because eventually they will just be toxic sludge pits.
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