Hurricane Ike, Missing Drill Rig, And Oil Spills: It's The System That Leaks

Oil Slick After Hurricane Ike, High Island, Texas, Smiley N. Pool / The Houston Chronicle, Excerpt

Some politicians consistently say that offshore oil drilling is safe and that drill rigs have withstood Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike without any significant damage or oil spills. The facts, as they often do, tell a very different story. On September 16, the oil drilling company Rowan announced one of its drill rig was missing, and that it had likely capsized and sunk due to Hurricane Ike. According to the now infamous Minerals Management Service, as of September 15, 2008, one day before the Rowan rig went missing, 28 of the 3,800 offshore oil and gas production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico had been destroyed, and several other platforms were significantly damaged by Hurricane Ike.

The US Coast Guard reported that due to Katrina, Rita and Ike there were over nine million gallons of oil released from six major and five medium oil spills. For comparison’s sake, the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil, and the Minerals Management service reported that Hurricane Rita destroyed 46 platforms and damaged 20 others, while Hurricane Katrina destroyed 69 platforms and damaged 32 others.

Yet on September 17, John McCain said he visited an oil rig in the Gulf, it survived the hurricane, it was safe and sound, and fish were swimming all around it. Clearly McCain visited a rig that escaped damage, but it’s a tremendous disservice to spin his visit in a way that leads people to believe there was no damage from the terrible winds of the hurricane.

Now, to be fair, the nine million gallons spilled as a result of Katrina, Rita and Ike were not spilled from offshore rigs. The oil was spilled from onshore tanks and pipelines that failed or ruptured. However, it’s not possible to drill offshore in the Gulf without an extensive network of tanks, pipelines, refineries and other infrastructure.

More offshore oil drilling will only lead to more oil spills, pollution and global warming. And global warming is the very thing that supercharges storms like Katrina, Rita and Ike, which in turn causes major oil spills and extensive damage to oil industry infrastructure. It’s a vicious cycle that any candidate for President should approach with true solutions to global warming: energy efficiency so that we get more out of every drop of oil, and a new vision for US energy that relies on renewables. Find out more about what options, besides dirty fossil fuels, are available to us right now for a clean and green future.

Image credit::Oil Slick After Hurricane Ike, High Island, Texas, Smiley N. Pool / The Houston Chronicle via SkyTruth Blog