Page last updated at 11:55 GMT, Tuesday, 18 May 2010 12:55 UK

Oil, risk and technology: Choices we need to make

Bill Jackson
VIEWPOINT
William Jackson

The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico should be a wake-up call to governments and energy companies, argues William Jackson, raising deep questions about our addiction to oil. Compensation may be paid for immediate damages - but what about the wider environmental harm?

Birds in oily water
Birds along the gulf coast have been among the immediate victims

The world changed one summer's day in 1858.

In a field in Pennsylvania, in the United States, the world's first specially constructed deep well struck oil.

The trickle of oil from the Earth, long extracted by humans in small amounts, became a torrent.

It is time to look again at the technology and risks involved in getting the oil our societies are addicted to

Relatively easy to find, extract, process, store and transport - and above all cheap - liquid oil quickly became our most important energy source to cook, heat, cool and transport things.

From plastics to supermarkets, and from globalised industry supply chains to the layout of our towns and cities, almost every aspect of human life has been radically altered over the past 150 years by oil.

Although cheap and plentiful oil has given many people choices and freedoms that never existed before, our addiction has been costly, measured in increased air and water pollution, rampant land use change, overharvesting of our seas, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and consequent climate change, acid rain and urban sprawl.

After 150 years, and with the Gulf of Mexico being the latest place where a major oil spill threatens nature and people in predictable and unpredictable ways, it is time to look again at the technologies and risks involved in getting the oil to which our societies are addicted.

Driving technology

The days of easy access to oil are over.

Humans are inventing ever more ingenious ways to find and extract more difficult to access oil reserves in more extreme and generally more ecologically pristine regions.

The letters BP drawn in oil-soaked sand
BP will pay to clean the water in the Gulf of Mexico, but cleaning the water and restoring ecosystem function is not the same thing

But getting oil from places such as the Arctic or deep under the ocean is not only technically difficult; it increases the risk of environmental damage, as we're currently seeing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil extraction technology has improved a great deal over recent years, driven in part by the need to get it from these more difficult places.

There have also been big improvements in operational procedures and standards, not least regarding the health and safety of oil workers.

But technology and operational procedures to minimise the risk of environmental damage, and to cope with and clean up after environmental catastrophes, do not appear to have kept pace with extraction technology.

Oil is still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. BP is spending millions of dollars a day to contain the oil with booms, using chemicals to disperse and break it up, and burning some oil on the ocean surface.

But understanding how, for example, these toxic chemicals become distributed in the water column and how they will affect marine life, given the scale at which they are being used, is poor.

BP is deploying makeshift containment domes to channel the escaping oil from the ocean floor to the surface where it can be collected by vessels.

Considering the high environmental and societal risks and impacts, and huge cost of oil spills, shouldn't this technology be more advanced?

The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are warm, with well developed infrastructure and staging locations nearby. What would happen if a similar disaster happened in the cold, ice covered and remote waters of the Arctic?

The higher risk of getting oil from more remote places means a higher price.

Boom around island
Islands can be protected - but not the wider ocean's ecology

Where oil reaches the coast, it will damage ecosystems on which many people rely for livelihoods.

Chord-grass marshes are vital nursery grounds for shrimp, and habitat for numerous other species.

It has been estimated that 90% of seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is produced by the marshes of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Hurricane Katrina showed us how much we depend on healthy natural coastal ecosystems for shoreline protection.

The bigger risk

We see pictures of damaged animals, wetlands and shorelines around the region; but the short and long term impacts on ecosystems and livelihoods will stretch well beyond Louisiana's fishing and tourist operators.

The true risks of energy choices on ecosystem services - the natural systems that support human life and livelihoods - are not being adequately factored into government policy or the balance sheets and stock prices of businesses.

BP will pay to clean the water in the Gulf of Mexico, but cleaning the water and restoring ecosystem function is not the same thing.

Nodding Donkey oil rig
The discovery of oil changed the world - is the world paying the price?

The true costs of restoration will not be borne by BP.

They will be borne through the lost opportunities, livelihoods and culture of communities dependent upon the ecosystem services that would otherwise be generated by the gulf, by the tourists who do not get to enjoy visiting the area, and by taxpayers who end up footing the bill to bring the regional economy back into health.

There will be disruptions and losses to commercial, sport and subsistence shell and fin fisheries and mariculture, as well as to commercial shipping and recreational boating.

Mangroves, as hatcheries and filtering systems, will be affected meaning additional water treatment costs.

Hotels, restaurants and bars, rental car companies, airports, military operations, and other industrial activities will suffer, with indirect and induced regional economic effects of these losses compounding the costs.

Some losses may prove to be economically or ecologically irreversible, raising the true costs of the accident substantially.

Future proof

What would it take to reduce the likelihood of such a disaster happening again?

First and foremost, it is unlikely that the true cost of such an event was accounted for by BP, because many of the effects on ecosystem services are only indirectly influenced by market forces.

A full accounting of the value of ecosystem services from the Gulf of Mexico by either BP or its insurance companies would increase the expected cost of accidents, reduce the likelihood of risky projects being approved and increase the likelihood of adopting additional, and costly, safeguards against such accidents.

The history of energy extraction has been marked by a number of disasters that have driven change: Piper Alpha, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Exxon Valdez to name but a few.

What is happening now in the Gulf of Mexico should be a wakeup call to governments, regulatory authorities and energy companies.

It should spur them to provide safeguards, improve technology to minimise the potential of environmental disasters, adequately and rapidly deal with the environmental and social consequences when disasters occur - and re-examine and improve the way we factor cost into energy investment decisions.

Dr William Jackson is deputy director-general of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental issues running weekly on the BBC News website


Do you agree with Dr Jackson? Is our modern society addicted to oil? Is it possible to price the damage to ocean ecosystems and the wider environment? Would doing so make oil exploration too expensive? And if so, would that be a good or bad thing?

A lot of the calls I am hearing here are environmentalist sentimentalisms that do not offer any realistic suggestions for improvement. "It's simple. Stop consuming and we put these bastards out of business." How? No cars, no planes, no plastics, no roads, ... A desperate call blaming the problem and not offering a countermeasure -- I call your words a waste of air and challenge you to live a single day in the life you're describing. "Solar on every roof is the answer! Eliminates transmission losses, could power electric cars too. Electric motor is more than 3 times more efficient than the internal combustion engine." Solar energy is getting cheaper and cheaper, true, but cannot offer sustained electrical power. Furthermore, solar cell manufacturing has only just recently (past year) become net energy positive (a cell that can provide more energy over its lifetime than it takes to produce it). You would still be dependent on outside sources at least half the time -- granted, it would be a step forward but is still very expensive. "PLEASE STOP THE OIL LEAK. NOW" I believe that's what a whole lot of people are trying to do, and they've had moderate success already. What are you doing to help? IXTOC took 208 days to stop, and that leak was at 200ft below sea level. Things get more complicated at 5000ft. Electric/hydrogen cars? Fact of the matter is that transportation accounts for only 27% of the world's oil use (2009). Furthermore, where would you get the electricity and how do you plan to split water to obtain hydrogen? With the vast majority of the world's power plants working off coal, converting half of the world's cars to purely electric would actually *increase* worldwide emissions (not just CO2, but nasty stuff like SO2 and NO). In my opinion, the option that is most easy to implement (because we know the technology and understand engineering details) is nuclear power. It takes a long time to build capacity, but works very well in the long term (France is powered 80% by nuclear fuel). As for radioactive waste: all of the currently existing nuclear waste would easily fit in a football field 1m deep. How does that compare to the megatons of CO2 we release every year? When criticising our lifestyle, I urge you to think about solutions. Pointing the finger of blame is what politicians do; as a society, we have the luxury of being more mature.
David Jenicek, Boston, USA

Addiction to oil, yes! But, we are also in a state of denial about this addiction. The fact is, we as humans do nothing to stop it. It's simple. Stop consuming and we put these bastards out of business. It's not just oil that's the problem. We ARE consuming the planet, with oil, agriculture and much more. AND, one day it will consume us.
Andrew Liberto, Planet Earth

When an alcoholic gets to a certain point, they cannot stop drinking or they will die as the body can no longer cope without it. Of course they will die anyway shortly due to alcohol abuse. That's about where our current civilisation is with oil. A substance we are struggling to afford, struggling to find and struggling to escape from.
Richard Eis, Leeds

AND NOW ANOTHER BRITISH COMPANY IS DRILLING FOR OIL IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC NEAR LAS MALVINAS (FAlKLAND ISLAND) AND NOBODY CARES ABOUT IT UNTIL ANOTHER DISASTER LIKE THIS HAPPENING AGAIN.
ALEJO, Buenos Aires Argentina

My concern here is that the punishment for BP men in dark suits will be a financial one, and they will not be hurting much because they have loads of cash, and by pumping out more oil, they can make truckloads more. No amount of fines is going to be enough to cripple BP. Also, because they have money coming out of their ears, they can also withstand a bit of public humiliation. If only BP execs could experience what it is like to be immersed in and gulp large quantities of seawater heavily contaminated with oil, they might see a bit beyond the dollar signs.
Tony, Christchurch, New Zealand

After the oil shocks of the 1970s, the US initiated a vigorous program of research on alternative energy. That was all chucked out the window in 1980 by Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party. The current budget for R&D for renewable clean energy is about $3 billion/year. It should be five to ten times that amount if we are to get off of fossil fuels, and avoid catastrophic global warming. Many business leaders are asking for the same thing (Gates, Immelt, Google,others). It is astonishing that our leaders have failed to invest in clean energy research; we've lost 30 years, and we're paying the price today.
Harry, Madison, WI USA

The alternatives exist. For two generations, we should go to nuclear + renewables to generate electricity, we should drive plug-in hybrids. We should insulate every home. Then we should transition to hydrogen -- use the electrical infrastructure to electrolyze water -- fuel cells in every home... We will get there eventually, but it should be sooner than later. Spend now to save later.
chuck buxbaum, Albuquerque, New Mexico, US

Off shOff shore drilling has an environmental cost that is just too expensive. It should be outlawed. Let the price of gasoline and oil skyrocket. The price increase will force us, at least here in the U.S., to find and use sustainable alternative.
keith, santa rosa, ca, usa

Dear William Here! Here! My exact sentiment. Oil and Coal imho should have been found and set aside for times when Humanity is truly at risk. Say perhaps when the sun is not shining for months or even years at a time. But in times like we have enjoyed of late, we could have done well to used muscle and wit and wisdom rather that substance abuse, dependency and exploitation to move our world. Lets not play this game any longer. Ay?
Sativarg Millenious, Homeless USA

There's a big disconnect going on here. As a society we want and need oil -- well we've built the whole of our modern life around it haven't we? And now it's starting to show signs of running out we encourage companies to drill ever deeper and explore further out under the sea and into inhospitable areas. Then when there's an accident we cry blue murder -- witness some of the hate towards BP being expressed here and elsewhere in the blogosphere. Little do we realise that the more we protest -- "make the b*****ds pay", like it's all their fault and nothing to do with us -- the more we'll dissuade them from taking risks with their exploration and the more expensive we'll make our future oil supplies. And then we'll march in anger because the price of fuel to fill our cars has gone up and we've been priced out of the chance to jet off for a holiday in the sun -- both now considered in the developed world to be basic human rights. Good, I say. For our own sanity and the lives of future generations, the sooner we wean ourselves of fossil fuels the better. But don't get the idea it will be easy. This is the start of the Age of Transition. Better get used to the pain, look up the meaning of the word 'sustainable' and start acting like it really matters.
John Russell, Devon, UK

All governments to my knowledge, hide a lot of costs in using oil into their government tax systems. I suspect everyone, everywhere actually pay twice the price at the pump. When you fiqure in the cost of military, payoffs, weapons sales to countries, regulation, building infrastructures, spills, fixing damages, especially in the U.S., actual costs are distorted. It would be helpful if someone would cost out the real pump prices. I think it would shock many. A nice country by country chart,breaking down costs, would be very cool.
Wallisp, AUSTIN,TX United States

Dr. Jackson is absolutely right about the matter: It was time for a wake up call. The list of disasaters involving oil in the sea is enormous. From Torrey Canyon to Deepwater Horizon the amount of oil spilled in the sea is shocking. Let us not forget about the slower and chronic pollution due to illegal tanker cleaning operations or plain urban pollution running into the sea by rivers. The real problem however is another one. Be honest: if you as a reader would have the choice to buy gas at a gas station for 1.50 £ per litre or at 2 £ per litre at a company that "cleans up its mess", where would you buy it? Another problem is at the interface of science, legislation and companies. I am involved in the marine bioremediation research (biological clean-up using bacteria). The science and technology to effectively apply bacteria in large scale for clean-up (or the use of those who are already there, to be more precise) is ready for the application in the field. Yet, both industry, coast guard and environmental agencies do not use it, as they are rather interested in "engineering solutions" such as chemical dispergators. Furthermore, researchers in this field only get funding and media coverage when an oil spill occurs. Two weeks after the spill, the media and the public interest is gone, so are the funding opportunities. I wonder if it is the same with research in renewable energy (which also would solve the problem)?
Christoph Gertler, Bangor, Gwynedd

In the end, the need for oil will never go away. The TRADEGY here people, is not the fact drilling was happening, but HOW it was done. There were no safety measures in place, no oversight, oil companies ARE sleeping w/many of our government officials,(that must get messy!), and money trumps all.. This is the society/policy we have set up in the USA, like it or not. I am always amazed, and wowwed out by protesters in Europe, and their ability to make change happen. We used to be a Country like that.. if Americans would protest more for change, perhaps their voices would be heard. Doing it once every four years, doesn't work.
Linda Barns (SPD MOM), Outer Banks, NC

Spill baby spill. Deregulate baby deregulate. Clean up your act but don't put up the price of gas.
Steven Louis Jones, Canada

A great time to have an oil industry-bashing agenda. However, Dr Jackson would be wise to acquaint himself with the MASSIVE volumes of crude oil that leak into the seas naturally. Some recent studies of the natural submarine oil seeps from the Santa Barbara Channel, offshore California, indicate that in that area alone, the sea routinely digests and disperses millions of barrels of crude oil a year, far more than BP's leak.
Dr Martin Keeley, Askeaton, IRELAND

Having worked in the oil industry,(oil exploration). I have been on a few BP rigs and I am not surprised that this has happened. BP waste money and they cost cut whenever possible. if they can save 5 pounds now they will, even if they know that it may cost them 15 pounds later on, because they think it will never happen. I can remember BP saying they needed us on a rig as it was urgent.They hired a helicopter just for us to get to the rig and when we got there the Tool pusher couldn't understand why we where there. 4 days later we started our work. We could have gone on the crew change helicopter at no extra cost. This incident was all because the guy in charge didn't want his weekend interrupted and would rather we sit on a rig twiddling our thumbs and cost BP a fortune. And don't get me started about Shell.
Stephen, Spain

It is pretty scary to know one incident can do such devastation to the environment. I would rather pay more to foreign countries for oil then suffer the consequences of what just happed. Even if we save on oil drilling in our home land when something like this happens everything suffers and prices increase for everything so it would be cheaper over time to buy foreign oil and keep our environment and economy flourishing. Would you rather have slightly cheaper oil and ruin our environment and oceans ecosystem? What kind of trade off is that!!!
Seth, Raleigh USA

Drilling at such depths should be banned, lest such a screw-up reoccur. Half a mile of water is deep enough. Certainly BP has learned a lesson!
Peter Buehler , Houston, TX

Yeah! I think the addiction to the oil is a problem! If we keep on doing this, some day we will be destroying the Earth herself! Anyway, this will just increase the climate change, pollution, dying ecosystems, and more global warming. Our only hope, trees, are being cut down too! EVERYBODY be green!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lu Lu,

I've had enough of the car culture, for the past twenty years or so I have upgraded my car ever three year, the car I have now has comfort, fantastic sound system, sat nav, etc etc. But I am now going car free, I'm sick of paying the government tax on my earnings; I'm sick of paying tax on a unsustainable fuel. If I wished I could continue to be a gas guzzler, I am making a choice and I am going car free. John F Director Baileys of Norfolk
John Farrell, Norwich UK

I believe that the author of the story is wrong, the first well was in Oil Springs, Ontario, Canada
Robert Barlow,

There will be little change. Dr. Johnson is correct. If one wonders why people are cynical look at this mess! Government and corporate policies should have changed along time ago. Alternative energy sources should have been insisted upon and resources put in to exploration. Where has the R&D of oil companies gone? More than cleanup by BP is needed in the gulf and they wont be there to see the loss of employment,ecosystems or possible loss of lives from the chemicals dumped in the ocean to break up the oil. This is one case where capitalism has definitely not worked.
DMOBrien, Houston USA

Every time I read about oil disasters it really brings me down. The world is controlled so much by money and the only clear end to a world ruled by greed is self-destruction. My anger toward the governments that are ruled by the industry is overwhelming sometimes. When did we stop having governments for the people by the people? For the sake of all humankind please just stop this mindless oil frenzy. We are destroying the only home we have!
Damien, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

The thing that I don't understand is that BP is asking the government to put a cap on the cost it must spend to clean up their mess. Are you kidding me,a cap? The cap should be whatever the bottom line is to clean up the mess. That would be 100%. Not the 75 million dollars that it currently is, which was set when the Valdez dumped it's load in Alaska. How many years ago was that? We didn't learn then and we will have no choice to learn from this one. I guess BP will have to spend some of their billions that they made in profits to make thing right. The sad thing here is, I don't know if there is enough money to clean up the damage that this will cause in the end.
Jeff Totman, Mesa, Arizona United States

A lot could be gained in understanding the true cost of the modern world's addiction to oil by typing in 'piper alpha spiral to disaster' and searching on line and watching this film of the anatomy of an unfolding disaster. Although set in years past the same types of errors occurred leading up to tragedy. It's hard to compare the cost of disaster but in light of what's known now about the extent of methane hydrates around the world and their impact should such methane ice become largely stimulated to self release it's a wonder the cost of offshore drilling is not considered infinite and an immediate halt ordered to such operations. In fact coal use itself must be seen in new light because anything that increases atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses shouldn't be seen as independent from the other because no firewalls will protect us if the biology of Earth is not protected.
Dale Lanan, Longmont, Colorado, USA

What has happened is a force majeure which no one could predict. BP will be covered via insurance and other contracts which reduce their costs by 50%. However the damage done to the ecological area is tremendous and will take generations to recover, the clean up efforts are also tremendous and should not be underestimated. As for hunger for oil, well that has increased as we expanded infrastructure and domestic use, however the idea of taxing more for fuel to encourage alternative fuels is not a good one, all that would create, is huge profits for the oil companies as they will sell fuel at higher cost, to compinsate for tax. Furthermore the fuel price, while unstable, has not increased by a huge ammount, but rather kept up with the general income (in the 70's it cost around 80 cents for a gallon while the avrage income was 12,000 USD. Today a gallon is 2.80 USD and avreage income of 30,000 USD. So around a triple fold increase in fuel price and income.)
jack, Lancaster UK

Solar on every roof is the answer! Eliminates transmission losses, could power electric cars too. Electric motor is more than 3 times more efficient than the internal combustion engine. The horrible irony of the gulf gusher is that since the very first time we tapped an oil reserve and almost every time since, it did the iconic blowout of gushing oil, the stuff is under pressure! So we have more than 400 platforms in the gulf and yet as we watch there is clearly no plan at all for a gusher out to sea. Really, the 'dome' and the 'hat' didn't work, untried, 'novel' solutions? The 'straw' is working some, but like it's a third string brand new idea? There is no off-the-shelf contingency plan? That tapped reserves are under immense pressure is a given, day one, and one triply malfunctioning blowout preventer is all there is standing in the way of catastrophe?! And then there is no plan B,just seat-of-the pants afterthought contrivances for the most obvious foul-up that could happen? These guys need more than regulation! How about stripped of their business charter of fined out of existence. ;)
Phillip Lamoureux, Lansing, Michigan, USA

The oil industry is notorious for its parsimonious operating philosophy. "Time is money." "Save a buck any way you can." The gusher in the gulf might well have been prevented had BP stipulated that the drilling contractor install an acoustic switch that shuts off wells by remote control. The switch is expensive at about half a million dollars but look at the lives and ecological devastation it might have saved. The acoustic valve is required for wells drilled in Brazilian and Norwegian waters.
Wilson Bell, Calgary, Canada

As usual all the Greenie do gooders scream their protests but the reality is that at the moment oil is our main power source along with coal and nuclear. All the renewables on this planet will not produce anything like the power output required. Make engines more efficient, stop diesel soot, ban wind turbines and stop all carbon taxes [because carbon dioxide is not a poison or pollutant] and above all stop trying to "Save the Planet". Climate change is a natural event and no predictions by the Alarmists has been matched by actual scientific data. I wonder why.
BRIAN JOHNSON, Farnham, Surrey, UK

Disasters of this kind or of greater scale are unavoidable, because the technical errors, natural variables, and above all human immorality always factor. This time BP has become the hate figure.
Dong, Qingdao China

This argument about alternative sources has been going on for 50 years that I know of every time a disaster happens its the same old arguments nothing ever new comes out of it. So make the change in every country now or quit talking about it.
Patrick McAllister, Port Orchard Wa, USA

I think we are all guilty of using oil - so we need to be a bit less critical of the industry - and each other. If we want to work on a solution, let's focus on what we would do as individuals to use less oil, switch away entirely or demand safeguarding the environment - understanding that oil is the most economic option and will be for quite some time. From what I can tell the issue at hand was not an oil or technology issue anyway - it was a behaviour issue. BP clearly has a culture that rewards unacceptable levels of risk - and one that also blurs lines of responsibility. If Transocean really had the contract for the job, why were BP managers even allowed on the rig? This is not an oil or even oil industry issue - its a BP company issue. This same behaviour set led to the banking crisis and every other crisis dating back to the middle ages. The type of people that made those terrible decisions on that day on that rig still exist at BP - and every other company in every industry. The difference between great companies and poor ones is the how people are rewarded and is the risk level appropriate. If the outcome had been different in this case (i.e. no accident) - would the decisions have been rewarded? They should not have been - this was a case of shortcuts, poor judgement and false authority in a cultural system designed to enable all three. Let's hope that if changes are made, it starts with the reward system at BP.
John, Illinois/USA

Americans are too busy consuming and escaping to worry about changing behavior. Horsepower still rules amongst the masses and SUV's still reign at every major university frat house.(read: tomorrow's leaders in politics and business). ONLY when the individual American actually experiences the direct effects of an ecological screw up, or feels it directly in the wallet, will change EVER happen. Corporations run American congress, senate, and supreme court it seems, and they will protect their own by manipulating the average good hearted American through media. Sheesh, every other commercial today is about "clean coal", and it won't be too long after this spill is over that BP and other oil corps will be plastering the air waves with their own lies. In the meantime we will continue destroying food sources the planet provides so we can be free to go as fast as we want, in as big of a car as we want, in any terrain that we want. Sickening, but true IMO. You know, EVERY SINGLE house in California COULD be run by solar! The gov would rather spend money on war than on facilitating and financing change! Let PG&E own the solar grid for cryin out loud. Perhaps United Corporations of America is a bit more appropriate these days.
db, Raleigh, North Carolina

Yes, our addiction to oil is crippling our present and future. It has brought enormous benefits, but the costs were always there, some visible some not. Oil has changed our lives forever and our current society is utterly predicated on abundant, never ending cheap oil. As our easy, cheap oil is becoming less abundant and as oil reserves are finite and these two will raise its cost inexorably it's obvious that we have a real problem! And it's a problem that's not going to be solved by wind power and electric cars. And then there's the issue of the CO2 emissions from the burning of oil. We have a society which is addicted to oil, which will have real problems decoupling itself from it and an atmosphere which can't stand any more CO2 from using what we've got left if we're to have a viable future. So, something's go to change big time and the first thing that has to change is our story of the future and what it might be like and how we might get there.
Stephen Watson, Brighton, UK

In response to pete j Waldern, punta gorda Fl., the answer is blaringly simple - money. Money drives most of our personal decision making, and money drives American politics. Until we start seriously creating legal mechanisms the reduce the influence that paid lobbyists can have over our political system, this kind of moral social outrage will continue and in all likelihood intensify in frequency and magnitude. We all as individuals need to reduce our use of oil where possible, and support greener technologies through purchase of biodegradable products, recycled products and other activities. Just parking strategically so you can shop at two stores instead of only one is a small step toward reducing our use of oil. Taking advantage of mass transit and carpooling when feasible is another small step to not only save money if you plan correctly, but to reduce oil consumption. City planning needs to be more adept at reducing the need for oil consumption, and to encourage the use of greener mass transit technologies - which some cities are doing with varying levels of success. The public needs to encourage and compliment the efforts of our public officials in this process as well, instead of stoping our feet and crying about spending too much tax money thereby derailing the funds needed to implement progressive planning.
Frank, New Mexico, USA

It must be nice to have all the answers and none of the responsibility
Adam Zitflang, elko, nv, usa

This incident is just one among many that shows what a destructive force of nature mankind has become. We western consumers will react with outrage and pity, but will we change our ways? Instead we'll shrug our shoulders continue as normal and wait for business and government to sort it out. Unless we take responsibility for our individual actions we cannot blame the oil companies or governments. It's up to us to make the force of mankind one for good before we destroy the planet.
Owen, Chester, England

Dr. William Jackson's analysis is correct as far as it goes, but it does not accurately portray the larger situation. BP is a business that hopes to make a profit in the oil business. Its' operating costs and profits all come from the consumers ultimately. Whatever financial burden it accepts to pay for the accident will all be passed on to the consumer ultimately...that is the free market system. Ultimately the consumer, the taxpayer of this country, and whoever else buys BP oil products will be paying for the cost of the mistakes made by BP management in this situation. BP management, government leaders, and all others participating in or benifiting from the free market system need to start realizing that their needs to be a stronger set of 'rules of the game for free enterprise.' Rampant free markets are dangerous; so are tightly restrained markets. However the rules of the game, the throttle on how free or restrained markets are, is a very necessary regulatory factor that should be designed to provide maximum benefit for all of society. Furthermore, the rules must also reflect long term goals because future generations, our progeny, are also part of society even if not presently represented.
Charles Sykes, Sacramento, Calif. USA

How many of you are willing to give up your cars, or pay for the population pumped into the atmosphere for last 70 years?
lixxie, Glasgow

The fact is we need to curb our addiction to oil and other fossil fuels or accidents like Deepwater Horizon are going to become ever more frequent as we drill for oil in ever more difficult places/circumstances. Clean(er) technologies are available but are expensive to develop and produce. Whatever the oil companies say, the amount they spend on developing cleaner sources of energy is vastly insignificant compared to what they spend on oil exploration simply because that is where the greatest profit is to be had. Personally I reckon oil companies should be forced to spend equal amounts on developing cleaner sources of energy and making them affordable for all as they do on exploring for and extracting oil. Yes, there would be some short term pain, oil prices would go up and we'd have to pay more. n the long term, however, we'd ween ourselves off oil and cleaner technologies would faster become profitable for oil to be shelved as an unaffordable source of energy, because let's face it, it's profit that drives ambition, not CO2, not government legislation nor environmental issues. Only when it becomes more costly to produce oil than it does other cleaner sources of enegry will the enery companies stop extracting it.
Chris, Chepstow UK

the world did not kearn from the oil hikes in the 1970's; NATO is in a no win war all for fossil fuels yet most manufacturers have not mabde any hheadway in less polluting vehicles, industries etc. It should also be no surprise that my country is so poor in science and engineering when one can waste ones talents in the useless financial sector and become very wealthy
Steve Neubeck, Buffalo,NY USA

America allegedly invaded and killed tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq to secure oil - its kind of rough justice that America is now the one suffering from its own addiction to the black stuff. This is not BP's fault but the fault of EVERYONE who demands cheap petrol and other oil based products.
gavin, london

Oil companies are no different than any successful company, they are just the current whipping boy that makes everyone fill better. All companies are corrupt and we all buy their products by choice. BP is the problem here, they have an unsafe working culture, profit over anything, everything they come in contact with has problems. Boycott BP, close BP. They will then be sold off to other companies who will hopefully be safer. Everything in our life right now is a by-product of Oil. It has taken 100+ years to get to where we are today and it will be 100+ years to change. And those changes will be better, but there will be a downside to them also, we just don't know what it is yet. Failure is part of success.
Dennis, Baytown, USA

This is a whopper of a problem, with tentacles leading in all directions. I will focus on just two of them: peak oil and essential uses. Peak oil (PO) has been studied by the US government (Hirsch Report, 2005), the Australian government (Queensland report, Senate enquiry) and recently by UKERC in Britain. All of these studies view PO as an unprecedented problem of the highest order, one which requires decades of concerted action. A number of studies from the military/security research community have come to similar conclusions: http://www.energybulletin.net/node/50208 As we move from 'easy oil' to oil which is more difficult, more risky and more expensive, we will be forced to prioritize our use of it. We would be very foolish to rely only on market forces to determine these priorities. I am a farmer, and am always in awe of the tremendous volume of work that a tankful of diesel can perform, and I cannot imagine being forced to get off the tractor and trying to do that work by hand, or even with horses. But on-farm income in Canada is at a record low, and we cannot absorb higher input costs. When oil hit $147 in the summer of 08, many of cut back on our activities. All of us saw food prices spike, food imports struggle, and learned of food riots in many countries. Citizens and civic leaders need to accept that we are looking at a very profound transition, particularly in the area of liquid fuels. We must ensure that the new 'difficult' oil is obtained safely and that it is used sensibly. Currently, much of it is wasted on frivolities and disposable/inferior products. We are ripping through precious, irreplaceable petroleum at the ferocious rate of 1,000 barrels a second, leaving little for our grandkids, and surely nothing for theirs. They will curse our excesses.
Rick Munroe, Ontario, Canada

I fully support the point of view of Dr. Jackson that we must restrict our 'addiction to cheap liquid oil'. The offshore drilling for oil and natural gas sometimes may result in this type of accident. There is no doubt that gushing of oil in Gulf of Mexico causing severe ecological damage. Using 'giant dome' and 'insertion tube' are the post management to such type of disaster. The probability of 'high impact accidents' can be minimized by effective planning and monitoring, but one can not stop these accidents altogether. The 'oil spill' and 'volcanic ash from Eyjafjallajokull' are two recent ecological disasters. One is men made the other one is natural. I would say both the things are beyond our direct control. The thing we must focus and control is the consumption of fossil fuel so that we can minimize the incessant men made damage to the ecology and we can keep/save some 'cushion' for the natural disasters.
Sanjay Singh Thakur, Indore,India

Matt from Connecticut, you couldn't be more wrong! What's up, are you tired of paying a lousy 3 bucks a gallon for gas? You epitomize the selfishness that voted two oilmen into the White House for eight long, long years, and stuck is even more deeply into needing our oil fix. I could go on, but why waste the energy.... Look, bumping the price of carbon up to match the REAL costs is the ONLY way out of this affair. And that includes little details like the Iraq War, which was almost certainly fought over oil! And I might add that, as a taxpayer, I am SICK AND TIRED of supporting this type of corporate welfare for the Big Energy industry! It's time to make the suckers pay their fair share (yeah, YOU guys pay for the Iraq War!), to increase the cost of carbon energy to its full measure, and to allow alternatives like solar to have a half a chance to compete as a result! BP and the others are only partly responsible for this mess. Business is business, and people will cheat whenever they get a chance. No, the REAL culprits behind this disaster are the lax laws and turn-a-blind-eye bureaucrats appointed by the Bush Administration! THANK GOD we elected President Obama and a majority of Congressional Democrats! Maybe now we can find out the full extent of the chicanery that the Bush Administration was up to!
Sacto Joe, Sacramento, CA, USA

cant see our civilization lasting much longer tbh. it is entirely dependent on 'economic growth' which is mathematically impossible with finite resources. the horrendous population explosion we are witnessing is entirely because of the rocket fuel of oil that allows our rapid utilization of all resources, and its running out fast leaving us 'up shit creek'. we are not so much 'addicted to oil, but completely and utterly dependent on oil. in fact, at least 4 billion humans would not exist without it. its a law of nature that any animal population that grows uncontrollably (when introduced to new territory... or in mans case, discovers a massive energy source) very quickly outstrips resources and collapses. and nothing can stop this collapse any more than stop the growth. no one was ever in control. this is amply illustrated by the fact that population control (one of the major preventative measures capable of preventing collapse) is taboo politically and not likely to be implemented. too bad. so just sit back and enjoy the show.
andy, coventry

And yet still the oil industry inspired viewpoint that "the US needs to drill more to help transition away from oil" keeps being pushed in America. This is an obvious, outright lie and more politicians should stand up and expose it as such. BP is also extensively engaged in sinking the oil with dispersants. This doesn't make the oil go away (unless you count downwards to poison the sea bed) it just stops it being seen on the surface. It's still poisoning the environment. Drilling techniques and technology might be circa 2010, but cleanup techniques are still circa 1980s and until this evens out drilling should be limited if it's allowed at all, to companies that demonstrate continuing, provable commitment to safety.
Edward Sheldon, Kitchener, Canada

cant the spilled oil be collected and recycled? i believe if oil is burnt at certain temperature it only leaves carbondioxide. surely we can live in this world without technologies and machines that uses oil, not for the time being but we can surely move to renewable source. the change should start from families and individuals now that our futrue generation would adapt to alternative energy else they would to be as addicted as we are. its for us to change now or never.
vinita , Lautoka Fiji

It's not that nobody cares, or that they haven't tried to stop the oil gushing, it's extremely difficult to plug a high pressure oil leak. Equally, ideal though it would be for solar to suddenly become widely affordable, we cannot instantly switch to an alternative energy. I hope that governments and energy companies take heed of this recent disaster and realise the move towards cleaner energy needs to be accelerated.
ZP, Cardiff, UK

All of the contractors involved are told exactly what to do by the operator. It is the operator who designs the well, based on his knowledge of geological pore pressures and fracture gradients, burst and collapse pressures for casing, and the mud weight required to maintain control of the well. This accident occurred just after the well fluid had been changed from a fluid with a density of 1.7 g/cc to seawater, prior to being plugged with cement. There are many possible failure scenarios. Based on publicly available information, it seems likely that the cementation of the final casing failed. However, this could have been evaluated using a bond log, and remedial cementation undertaken. This would have taken a few days. The decision not to apply remedial cementation would have been made by BP, rather than Halliburton. Failure of the cement alone would not have caused the blowout without an additional failure mode, either of the cementing valve in the casing shoe, or of the casing or casing hanger itself. In case of failure of the cementing valve, it would have been possible to control the well with the BOP stack. In case of failure of the casing or casing hanger the crew would have had no warning before gas entered the riser. It would have been impossible to close the Blind/Shear rams of the BOP with both casing and drillpipe inside. Using the analogy of the rental car: if you rent a car and take a short cut off-road, the rental company cannot be blamed if you drive over a cliff.
James, Houston, Texas

I want to scream at every person who fills up at BP right now. The birds are the easiest to show the effect. We have almost NO oxygen in the gulf waters right now, which means all the microorganisms are dying, which means that the big fish will die too. 30 sea turtles in Mississippi washed up probably as a result of the explosion, but no one can prove it. It stinks like diesel fuel down here, and I'm crying at every other Gulf Spill headline. I liked what one blogger said- it's a GUSHER not a spill. We will be seeing/feeling the effects of this for the rest of my lifetime. I'm in my 30s and this is going to end up causing more damage than Exxon did to Alaska… Why have they not stopped the GUSHER? Why do so FEW people care? can we please make solar afforadable?
Patricia Berntsein, New Orleans, LA, USA

In the wake of such disaster, the horror and public outcry might force oil companies and governments to restrategize for a greener future.
Engr Salam, Kalai,Bangladesh

When I heard about the news last month, I thought it wouldn't be too serious at first, and I believed BP could solve it soon. However, as so many days passed by, I realised that things were not as easy as I thought before. I feel really sorry that people in Louisiana are in such a great trouble. Also, some experts say that the oil may hit Florida. I insist that what BP should do now is to use any possible method to stop the oil from coming into the sea and clean the water before it becomes a greater disaster. Other energy companies should learn something from this accident. We couldn't stop using oil. But we must do something to avoid such accident, which may cost much money. In order to develop the economy and protect the most important environment, the money is worth spending.
Dai Yixuan, Yueyang, China

I think if only Dr Jackson knew more the history of the oil story; he would be outside BP's office himself throwing bricks at the building ! We had the opportunity to halve the amount of oil we burn in our cars, since 1912/13. But the choice was taken to get rich instead. The hard work was dumbed down, and in sheer disbelief at what he was watching us do; Diesel jumped off the ship. Half the oil in the last 100 years was simply wasted as a result. Half those sunk tankers would yet to have sailed, and half those oil wells would yet to be drilled. It's a classic chicken and egg situation; they won't tell you, and you don't know enough to ask. And there is a more interesting aspect, and it is this; the life cycle of crude oil is, we dig a hole in one place, and bring up the crude oil. We cream off the petrol we wanted for our Otto engines. Then we go and dig a hole somewhere else and bury the waste by products; tar, plastics, petrochemicals, pesticides, etc. Now the point is this; if we are now getting the oil from under the ocean, but still burying the waste on the dry land; well, we are pretty soon going to cover the dry land; unless we dump all the watse plastic in the ocean and leave it to drift around out there; . . oh, we do ?! And the fact is; for now, we still rather want it that way Cheers Steven
Steven Walker, Penzance

The issue is that at present we do not really know the extent of the leaks, both surfacing and sub-surface. With implementation of dispersants that are themselves hazardous chemicals that are either doing as advertised and dispersing (not removing!) or forcing the oil sub-surface, we are simply adding to a growing problem. The oil, chemicals being used will all have generational long-term effects to the ecosystems, environments for both man/animals and plants alike. Chemicals poison from within damaging DNA and breaking up the entire chain of life where it starts - in the wetlands, the sea beds and seashores of the Gulf. The damage from absorption by plant life, animal life will have long term knock-on effects. The worst part is that on a global scale, this is still as small spill by comparison to the others in history. Clearly BP are working to resolve the problem, and the US government will change the regulations. Will this prevent a greater disaster in the future? Doubtful. Will it prevent this happening again? Possibly. The sequence of failures, human and mechanical alike must be understood and sterner checks made. Both government and industry need to work together to improve safety and plan better for such eventualities. The world over people (all governments) need to take look at disasters such as this, and get a grip on the longer term cost to the environment and mankind as a whole. We are a part of the system and depend on the ecosystems that surround us. We cannot continue to abuse them without it affecting ourselves and the environment permanently.
D Breese, Moscow, Russia

Innovation and the use of other resources can and does happen quite rapidly when the cost of a commodity becomes untenable. In the case of our fossil fuel use there are many other technologies coming into play, but until fossil fuels stop being subsidized and the true cost of their use is factored into our economic matrix nothing will change and our environmental and climate destruction will continue unchecked. Everything can be reduced to it's essential component - cost. If the cost is too high it falls out of favour.
Jackie Mason, Nevada City, CA USA

in the70's we were banned by opec and sufford gas shotages and choas. Our rep's promised to reduce our dependance on imported oil, why did they not do it?
pete j Waldern, punta gorda Fl.

I've seen this argument that we must drive up the cost of oil to inspire demand and innovation for alternative technologies. This action is counterintuitive and does not serve this purpose. It simply pays oil companies more for doing the same poor job and maintains the status quo. We need to lower prices world wide, and make the product so inexpensive it is no longer profitable to produce it. Producing states require prices well above production costs to operate. You kill the profit motive and suddenly the entire world-wide infrastructure collapses within a few years. The secondary effect is that consumers, who are not increasing demand (yet prices continue to go up due to speculative trading, etc.), will pay less for the same service providing economic stimulus in the short term, without quantitative easing, expanded debt, or raising taxes. It is my belief that given the opportunity to equalize and stabilize markets, as well as removing business intervention, support (by Central Banks, investors, etc.); oil will trade at the prevailing market rate - below production costs as it did in March 2009, before we re-inflated worldwide equity markets with American and British debt. Effects from such a policy are varied, but typically will result in either developing new technologies or halting exploration of new oil fields to prop up price - both of which are critical to weaning off black gold at all levels. Regarding improving consumer durables (auto) efficiency, your argument is sound yet it still facilitates pushing the problem further down the line. Improved efficiency and less consumption per unit seems like the right policy but in reality allows producers and suppliers to extend the time frame. Thoughts?
matt, Connecticut, US

I AM SORRY TO SAY THAT THIS IS NOT JUST (BP) PROBLEM THIS IS WORLD PROBLEM AND ITS SAID TO SEE THAT NO ONE COME FORWARD TO STOP THE OIL, NOT EVEN INT'L COUMMUNITY THE CALL THEM SELF ENVIORNMENTLIST, I DON'T THIS WE AS HUMEN CARE ABOUT THIS OIL SPILL IN GULF OF MXICO.PLEASE STOP THE OIL LEAK. NOW
eijaz, CHICAGO,ILL

I find it ironic that its the Americans who are now critical about the serious and very sad side effect of this accident of which the blame has been laid at the feet of BP … What about the owner of the drill platform and the apparent faults to safety equipment .. have I misunderstood the reported news ? Are BP not the operator - not owner ? If you hire a car with faults and have a crash due to these faults are you responsible ???? The Americans are the most selfish nation for consumption on this planet for energy and food - look at the size of them ... yep stop exploration and oil supplies from middle east etc ( if so concerned about pollution then its only reasonable they should stop imports and not have tankers at sea on their behalf ? ) Quadruple their gas prices .. then listen to the moans. Yes I believe we need to look at alternatives ASAP .. Hydrogen fuel cells maybe. Modern cars are much more efficient but sadly this is swallowed up in alternators like power stations, air-con pumps, excessive weight and size that means we still drink fuel at 1970's rates although now travel in greater luxury ! Where is a basic simple light vehicle that can double mileage by harnessing the technology benefits allied to simplicity - cars have become bloated with new models generally longer, wider, taller, heavier leaving a gap at the bottom again as super minis became mainstream ???? Feel much better to get that off my chest … agree or disagree ???
David Ogilvy, Scarborough, N Yorks

I think its not an addiction to oil thats the problem. The entire infrastructure for transport is geared up for oil, powerplants use oil gas or coal which are all fossil based fuels. Fossil fuel industry is the dominant form of power generation and has been for years. These companies will do everything they can to keep hold of their strangle hold on society. i.e the technology and funding is available for electric cars to be produced with a very similar range and performance set up to petrol and diesel. The reason it doesn't happen is the oil industry would be crippled.
thomas jarvis, Loughborough, UK



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