Offshore Drilling Part 1: What Is It, and Its Impacts on the Marine Ecosystem

I had started writing about the Arctic offshore drilling happening right now off the coasts of Alaska, but as I rambled on and on, I figured I needed to first start by explaining what offshore drilling is, and what it does to the marine environment.

  • What Is Offshore Drilling?

We consume more than 93 million barrels of oil every day worldwide. To meet our ravenous demand for fossil fuels, petroleum companies constantly comb the planet for new reserves, and a vast majority of these resources are under the oceans. 

Most of the world’s petroleum is trapped between 500 and 25,000 feet (152 and 7,620 meters) under dirt and rock. How did it all get there? All this oil actually began as plankton, which died in the ancient seas between 10 and 600 million years ago. This decaying matter drifted to the bottom of the ocean, and over time was covered with sand and mud. Without oxygen, and millions of years of heat and pressure, this organic material eventually transformed into vast deposits of liquid, gas and solid petroleum, all capped in traps under thick layers of rock. 


Offshore platforms are giant structures used for the purpose of drilling and extracting these gas and oil from wells, located deep beneath the ocean floors. They are strongly built and are designed to last decades in the harsh environment. Depending on the requirements, they can either be floating or fixed to the ocean floor.

Nowadays, modern oil rigs are gigantic floating cities, employing and housing hundreds of people. Some go down to the bottom at depths of over 4,000 feet (1,200 meters). 

  • How Does Offshore Drilling Affect the Environment?

Seismic blasting - Offshore drilling has a number of negative impacts on our environment. First of all, you have to find the oil. One of the ways to find the oil is through the use of seismic surveying. This method involves sending shock waves down through the water and into the ocean floor. With the aid of computers, seismologists can then analyze the shock wave results to pinpoint possible oil locations in the ocean floor.

(Source: Oceana)

Survey ships use both compressed air guns and explosives to emit shock waves. However, this kind of acoustic pollution poses a threat to seismically aware sea animals such as the endangered blue whale, and to other marine mammals relying heavily on marine echolocation. The incredibly loud blasts have also been found to damage or kill fish eggs and larvae and to impair the hearing and health of fish, making them vulnerable to predators and leaving them unable to locate prey or mates or communicate with each other.


Oil Spills - Obviously, offshore drilling also increases the risks of oil spill from drilling itself or from the transportation of the oil from the rig. As we have learned from the Deepwater Horizon, the Exxon Valdez, or simply after hurricanes pass through the Gulf of Mexico, thousands of animals die as a result of these oil spills. In the long-run, an oiled and degraded habitat reduces productivity, affects the health and immune system of marine animals, disturbs the food chain, and reduces the chances of development in fish eggs and larvae. It is also extremely costly for the fishing and tourism industries for the coastal communities that rely heavily on them.

Recovery from an oil spill takes years. In 2014, NOAA published this graphic showing the recovery timeline for different species after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. As indicated, 25 years later, some species are still in the process of recovering, and some have not shown any signs of recovery at all.

(Source: NOAA; see full size)

Toxic waste pollution - In addition to environmental damage from oil spills, the routine operations associated with offshore drilling produce many toxic wastes and other forms of pollution. Each oil platform can discharge hundreds of thousands of gallons of contaminated water daily, affecting both local waters and those down current from the discharge.

Policy-makers need to remember that our oceans create over half of our oxygen, drive our weather systems, govern the flow of nutrient and energy around the world, and provide us with vital sources of protein, energy, minerals and other products. In the face of the climate crisis, every nation need to look for ways to decrease petroleum consumption, not for ways to increase it. 


The Death Of Bees Explained – Parasites, Poison and Humans  

In 2015 the bees are still dying in masses. Which at first seems not very important until you realize that one third of all food humans consume would disappear with them. Millions could starve. The foes bees face are truly horrifying – some are a direct consequence of human greed. We need to help our small buzzing friends or we will face extremely unpleasant consequences.


(via: In a Nutshell – Kurzgesagt)

Seagrass thrives surprisingly well in toxic sediments - but still dies all over the world

Toxic is bad. Or is it? New studies of seagrasses reveal that they are surprisingly good at detoxifying themselves when growing in toxic seabed. But if seagrasses are stressed by their environment, they lose the ability and die. All over the world seagrasses are increasingly stressed and one factor contributing to this can be lack of detoxification.

Seagrass meadows grow along most of the world’s coasts where they provide important habitats for a wide variety of life forms. However in many places seagrass meadows have been lost or seriously diminished and in several places, researchers and authorities work hard to understand what is happening and prevent the seagrasses from disappearing.

Now biologists from SDU add another important piece to the understanding of sea grass life.

It has long been known that the toxin sulphide is part of the threat to seagrasses. Sulphide is a naturally occurring toxin found in the seabed where seagrasses grows. The seabed is characterized by lack of oxygen and a smell of rotten eggs from sulphides.

A widely held theory states that seagrasses cannot tolerate sulphide and that increasing amounts of sulphide due to increased pollution have a negative effect on seagrasses.

Sulfide is absorbed by plant tissue

“But our research shows that seagrasses are actually capable of protecting themselves from sulphide. In fact, seagrasses benefits from sulphide”, explains postdoc Harald Hasler-Sheetal who has conducted the research together with Professor Marianne Holmer, both from the Department of Biology, University of Southern Denmark.

against app. two thirds of the sulphide that enters the plant from toxic seabed. The last third is absorbed by the plant’s tissue and here enzymes convert the sulphide into beneficial nutrients.

But the discovery that a seagrass can protect itself from sulfide does not mean that all is good.

"Seagrasses cannot tolerate sulphide under all circumstances. If a seagrass is stressed, the plant’s capacity to detoxify itself will weaken, and the plant will be less capable of protecting itself from sulphide. It’s like when humans are stressed; then we cannot perform optimally. Stressed seagrasses grow slower and may die back – this is what we see in many parts of the world”, explains Harald Hasler-Sheetal.

Read more here.

Provided by the University of Southern Denmark


The abandoned buildings of Hinkley, California.

Hinkley is the location of one of Pacific Gas & Electric’s natural gas pipeline compressor stations. Upon testing, it was found that the hexavalent chromium used to prevent rust in the cooling towers had leaked into the ground, causing the world’s largest plume of chromium-6 to pollute the town’s drinking water. PG&E has since paid millions in settlements to the residents, as well as bought out much of the property, leaving this Mojave desert community a ghost town-in-the-making.
CENSORED NEWS: Warning! U.S. EPA tells Navajo People to Waive their Rights - Gold King spill

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The U.S. EPA has been seeking signatures from the Navajo People on Standard Form No. 95 which, if signed, will waive future claims against the U.S. EPA.

“The Federal Government is asking our People to waive their future rights because they know without the waiver they will be paying millions to our People. This is simple; the Feds are protecting themselves at the expense of the Navajo people and it is outrageous.” said President BegayeStandard Form No. 95 states the following:I CERTIFY THAT THE AMOUNT OF CLAIM COVERS ONLY DAMAGES AND INJURIES CAUSED BY THE INCIDENT ABOVE AND AGREE TO ACCEPT SAID AMOUNT IN “FULL SATISFACTION AND FINAL SETTLEMENT OF THIS CLAIM”All signors will be limited to the specific claims filed, and any future claims for injuries caused by the Gold King Mine will be waived.“The U.S. EPA has admitted they are at fault and stated this disaster will last for decades. This is unacceptable. The damages to our People will be long term and the Navajo Nation will not settle for pennies. I have consistently stated that the Navajo people deserve to be compensated for every penny lost. I will not allow fine print to let U.S. EPA off the hook. The Navajo people deserve better from the United States government.” said President Begaye.The U.S. EPA has been attending local public hearings across the Navajo Nation, in Shiprock, Aneth and Olijato and passing out Standard Form No. 95 to participants urging them to sign the form. The Navajo Nation Attorney General has advised that Form No. 95 will settle for current claims and preclude all future claims from the spill.“We are also concerned for our neighbors, and whether this Standard Form No. 95 is being circulated in other communities. This is not just hurting the Navajo People but all those in the Four Corners Region. Think twice before you sign this form, we must hold U.S. EPA fully accountable for their negligence.” said Vice-President Nez