Sarah Arnott: Our hunt for black gold must go on

The global thirst for energy being what it is, there is no alternative but to search for oil

Share
Related Topics

There is no question that the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico is a terrible tragedy in both human and environmental terms. But to suggest it means that President Obama should back off from opening up further tracts of US waters for oil exploration is a misunderstanding of what is at stake.

This is no call for complacency. The scale of the destruction is already heartbreaking as the slick washes on to the Louisiana coast. Every effort must be made to establish causes, stamp out regulatory laxity and make sure such a calamity is never repeated. BP could be held liable for costs that could run as high as $12bn (£8bn), and rightly so. But to leap to the conclusion that so-called "ultra-deep" drilling should be abandoned is a luxury we simply do not have.

It is an easy argument to make. The Deepwater Horizon spill is so enormous because the leak cannot be stopped. And the leak cannot be stopped because it is beneath 5,000 feet of turbulent sea, in conditions so dark and heavy that attempts to use robots to shut down the well-head have been likened to working on the Moon.

Environmental groups claim the disaster as proof that oil is filthy, that the oil industry is irresponsible, that ultra-deep water drilling is a step too far. Greenpeace has a "Stop Offshore Drilling" campaign, complete with a truly depressing ticker showing the ever-increasing numbers of gallons of oil still gushing into the Gulf.

Other commentators are starting to make similar noises. If Deepwater looks serious, they are saying, imagine a similar incident at nearby Thunderhorse, where 300 people labour and 250,000 barrels of oil are pumped out every day. Suddenly BP's world-leading expertise in deep-water drilling looks like a daredevil stunt, its focus on the ultra-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico like some kind of gratuitous adrenaline fix.

Not so. Rather, it is the only way to ensure a remotely smooth transition away from what Greenpeace calls our "addiction to oil", without a potentially devastating cold turkey. The global thirst for energy being what it is, there is no alternative but to search for oil wherever it may be found. There is no commentator in the world – typing away in their warm house, with shoes on their feet and food in their cupboards – who can responsibly call for less exploration.

There is also no immediate alternative to fossil fuels. We as a species may have decided we don't like them, may have decided that we must look for better ways to supply our energy needs, may even have started on such a course. But in the short term we have no option. It is not only a question of "selfishly" seeking to uphold the unbelievable luxury of our standard of living – with all the children's lives that are saved and all the misery and pain obviated. It is also a matter of simple realism. There are riots in the streets of Athens at the prospect of reduced pensions. Imagine the conflagration were there to be less food, poorer medical treatment, massive premiums on transport, technology, plastic. Wind farms and solar panels are clearly the ultimate solution. But they are not ready yet.

Two weeks on from the Deepwater Horizon explosion, with oil pouring out at a horrifying rate of 200,000-plus gallons per day, it is too easy to say that we should not have been there at all. There is even a weirdly moral tone. Nemesis is ever the just deserts of hubris. Just look at Icarus, or Frankenstein, or any number of mythic directives not to rock the boat that echo down the ages as humanity clawed its way into the long-living comfort of the modern age. Deepwater is a potential catastrophe and should not for a minute be downplayed. But there is no choice but to press on. It is an affront to progress to suggest otherwise.

s.arnott@independent.co.uk

For further reading: Al Gore's view on the oil leak in The New Republic: tiny.cc/tn280

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones