Deepwater Drilling is a Risky Decision


Distant as the spill may seem, remote energy resources provide services we expect every day.  Whenever wasted or lost, petroleum impacts both our environment and economy. 

We cannot avoid all of the risk of providing petroleum resources - indeed there is human and enviornmental risk associated with nearly all resource extraction. The goal is to reduce and manage the risk. Four questions that will be revisited for years to come are:

  1. Did we properly assess the risk of the Deepwater Horizon failure?

  2. Is there an acceptable risk level (risk threshold) worth taking?

  3. Did industry and government minimize the acceptable risk?

  4. Were industry, government, and communities prepared for a catastrophic accident?

Consider the basic risky decision

Environmental and human risk was associated with the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig operatoin. In simple terms, this can be framed as a classic risky decision. These are like many choices we make: a) to invest in a new business enterprise, b) to introduce a new medical vaccine, c) to determine the level of fire and police services, or d) to permit extraction of resources in forests, mines, and coastal regions. Below is an illustration of a basic risky decision:

The probability of outcomes in this risky decision can use estimates of the likelihood of a blow-out preventer failure. The Final Environmental Impact Statement for 2003-2007 lease sales by the Minerals Managment Service (report MMS 2002-052) estimated the probability of a blowout in deep water drilling to range between 2 and 7 in a thousand (probability range: 0.002 to 0.007); this puts the probability of a positive outcome at 99.3% to 99.8% (see Section 4.4.1.2 of the EIS).

 

A short video on America's Spill may illustrate some of the consequences, in terms of the energy pay off.

Review the Public Gamble

Review Industry's Gamble

 

Professor James J. Corbett works on energy and environmental solutions for transportation in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment at the University of Delaware.

 

Sources:

Sources: Comparisons assume 50,000 barrels per day is released from the Deepwater Horizon drill site. 

Houston Chronicle article report early expert damage estimates: $10 Billion

Price of Crude Oil from U.S. DOE: $75 per barrel as of 6 June 2010

Site Updated 16 June 2010