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The Dangers and Ethical Considerations of Deep Sea Oil Rigging

On April 20, 2010, an explosion occurred aboard the Deepwater Horizon Oil rig, operated by Transocean Ltd. , a drilling contractor commissioned by BP. The rig was located in the Gulf of Mexico, 52 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana in United States. The explosion initially resulted to the sinking of the oil rig, to the loss of at least 11 of the rig’s crew members and to the various injuries for at least 24 more. A major oil spill didn’t result immediately, but just a ‘moderate sheen on the water’.

Nevertheless David Rainey, the Vice President for BP, warned that there could be a change in the [oil spill] situation upon containment of the fire CNN Wire Staff. (2010). Mr. Rainey’s warning proved to be true because several days and weeks after the explosion, the extent of the explosion’s impact emerged and shocked everyone with the spillage of crude oil from a broken oil cap at approximately 800,000 gallons a day. BP executives and technical experts tried their best to come up with high-technology methods to stop the spillage, to no avail.

The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, the resulting fire on the platform and the subsequent spillage resulted in the tragic death of at least 11 of the oil rig’s crew, not to mention the burns and other traumatic and moderate injuries to the survivors. And of course, the oil rig itself sank down the sea floor. The Deepwater Horizon was built in 2001 and was one of the world’s most modern drilling platforms. It had a capability to withstand 12-meter or 40 foot waves, as well as hurricane winds. The rig operated up to the ocean depths of 3,000 meters or 10,000 feet (Bethge et.

al. 2010). The oil spillage on the Gulf of Mexico stretched to the shores of at least five states of United States of America and devastated fishing and tourism industries (Driver 2010). The aftermath also included heart-wrenching sights of thousands of sea creatures dying or dead with oil stuck on their poor and suffering bodies. Many veterinarians and volunteers struggled to rescue those creatures which had chances of survival. Sea and land creatures which could no longer make it were helped in ending their suffering triggering issues on animal rights to life.

It was only last week (July 2010) that the spillage was somehow aborted through a tight containment cap (Driver 2010). Nevertheless, the spillage already resulted to an alarming proportion of disaster to a lot of business and industries, and worst of all to the environment. The Deepwater Horizon disaster demonstrates the lurking dangers of deep sea oil drilling. However, oil magnates and barons seem to be left with no choice but to venture into the extremely dangerous operations of deep sea oil rigging.

It can be recalled that in 1956, US Geophysicist Marion King Hubbert was scorned and treated with contempt for proposing the idea that the world’s oil supply was limited and would start to be depleted by the end of the 20th century. Hubbert further predicted that the oil-rich fields of Texas and elsewhere in the lower 48 states could also be depleted (Flam 2010). The oilfields in the Middle East are also in the same scenario and the region is gasping for more oilfields by scouring the other untapped areas of the region.

The available oil from these existing oil fields is not longer adequate in supplying the world’s demand which is estimated to be 80 million barrels per day (Flam 2010). Hence, the vast oil reservoirs from the dangerous depths of the sea are being tapped. Where and how does deep sea oil originate, and what are the specific dangers of deep sea oil rig? The oil bed is in rock layers which have been formed millions of years ago, approximately 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) into the ocean floor. This oil bed is covered by a layer of mud and hard salt, as well.

This region of the sea is ‘scalding hot’ but enormous profits from oil force the oil magnates and barons to dare venture here, ignoring the obvious threats to the lives of rig workers, the environment and many other things, to be considered. What happened to the Gulf of Mexico was already warned about by scientists such as Klaus Bitzer of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil ad Gas. According to Mr. Bitzer, BP and Transocean interfered with things which they should have better left alone (Bethge et. al. 2010). The layers of rock thousand of feet beneath the seas are full of potentially explosive gases.

Huge quantities of gases are dissolved in molten rock at high pressure. Once these gases seep upwards, they bubble out, often with violent circumstances (Flam 2010). A group of professors and oil and gas specialists, several portions of the northern Gulf of Mexico were described as complex sea floor impacted by fluid gas expulsion. In the Walker Ridge site of the Gulf, for instance, it was noted that gases and suspected fluids have migrated to the sea floor within porous and permeable upturned beds of molten rock (Roberts, Hunt, Jr. and Shedd 2008).

Another hazard that lurks in the Gulf is the vast sheets of salt on the sea floor. The salt sheets formed as the gulf periodically dried up over the eons. Slowly, the sheets hardened and were folded and buckled by tectonic forces, creating a jagged salt-scape where pockets of oil and gas get trapped. Because the salt is so impermeable, it cam seal up gas and oil at dangerously high pressures. When you drill into the salt, and start extracting the oil, the as can suddenly come bubbling out, with violent circumstances, according to Roger Anderson of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth University (Flam 2010).

Tim Robertson of Nuka Research and Planning in Seldovia, Alaska cites another hazard to deep sea oil rigging. In the depths of the sea or the ocean, strong sea currents put massive stress on the risers. Meanwhile, the oil must be kept as hot as possible, to prevent the natural gas it contains from freezing together with seawater into compounds called gas hydrates, which can plug the pipes. Furthermore, the enormous pressure in the underground reservoir is equally dangerous. Every square centimeter (0. 16 square inch) of the rock layer where oil companies are drilling is subject to pressure equivalent to the weight of a medium-sized car.

Drilling into such an oil or gas reservoirs can present risks of fuel surging upwards explosively and uncontrollably. The prevention of possible explosion of gases is equally dangerous. Drilling fluid applied with pressure equivalent to the oil and gas surging upwards is constantly forced into the borehole. One mistake or one crack can be enough to trigger an explosion (Bethge et. al 2010). With the hazards and threats posed by deep-sea rigging to humanity and the environment, there is a question now as to whether this should be allowed or not.

In the first place, the costs of deep sea rigging are astronomical as well. The Deepwater Horizon, for example was worth 560 million US dollars, and the drilling process at the time of the explosion was 100 million British pounds. The oil generated from deep sea oil drilling is less than one per cent of the global oil production. What indeed would BP and other oil riggers lose win or lose in the dangerous pursuit of oil under the sea? Despite the meager percentage of its oil production, BP for instance increased its profits to 5. 6 Billion US Dollars in the first quarter of 2010.

On the issue as to whether to allow companies to drill deep into the sea or not, ethical, economic, technological, environmental and moral issues and sides need to be considered. Economically speaking, the United States may not be in such a lucrative position to ban deep sea rigging altogether. The country, as well as its western counterparts, no longer have the control and “shots” with the Arab and Asian countries where the rich oilfields (which are about to be depleted as well) can be found. These countries already control the oilfields by themselves (Bethge et. al. 2010).

Hence, the western oil companies, including Britain are now rigging offshore, going deeper and deeper as the undersea oil is also predicted to last only for long, given the stringent demand for oil and crude products in the whole world. With the discovery that the core of the earth under the seas and the oceans hides such a vast resource of oil, it is not surprising at all. After all, these oil companies need to survive, along with their employees. And well, the world’s economy, market and the foreign current trading, in particular, has already been dictated by the price of the oil barrels.

As an independent engineer consultant for the United States, I will adhere to ethical considerations which are based on the economic and utilitarian principles alone. The economic theory of ethics tells us that we should uphold the business interests of the company, the oil industry and the country as well, at all times. The economic theory of ethics is inclined towards decision making and / or actions which prioritize the business or economic survival of the company, oil industry and the company itself (Schwartz 2008: 216).

The deep sea oil rigging promises lucrative economic returns as well as adequate supply of oil which will help the United States government so that it will no longer have to import oil from Asian and Middle East countries. On the other hand, Utilitarian Ethics tells us that our decisions and actions should always be for the greatest happiness of the greatest majority of everyone. Utilitarian Ethics also tells us that we should consider the consequences of the decisions and/or actions.

In Utilitarian Ethics, a decision or action is considered wrong or right based on the consequence to the greater majority (Shaw 2008:2158). If we will base our decision to allow deep sea oil rigging on the Utilitarian Ethics, it will be allowed because of the presumption of greater economic benefit to the companies, the stakeholders, the oil industry, and the entire country of United States as well. However, if we will consider the consequences of such an activity to the environment and the other creatures such as the air and sea animals, we will be applying the deeper meaning of utilitarianism.

At the surface, considering the impact of deep sea rigging may not be within the bounds of Utilitarian Ethics, but if we look beyond into the greater benefit of the future generations of the country by limiting or banning deep sea oil rigging, we will be demonstrating the real essence of Utilitarianism. After all, the greatest majority of the people are not only in the present life, but also the future. The Utilitarians think about choices and actions in terms of interests or desires and their satisfaction or frustration.

According to early British Utilitarians, the right choices are those which will probably maximize interest-satisfactions (utility) or produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number (Leys 1961W: 3). The relationship and interdependence of the humanity and the environment has become more and more complicated, and has inspired ethical philosophers and scholars to come up with a new field of study, the Environmental Ethics. This type of ethics delves on the moral relationship of the human beings to, and also the value and moral status of the environment and its nonhuman elements.

Environmental ethics considers such issues as does a company have moral obligation to restore the landform or the ecology when it is disturbed by the operations? Is it morally acceptable or ethical to disturb the ecology or the environment, after all? Should it have been better to have just left the environment untouched? (Brennan 2008:1-2) Similarly, the Kantian principle (proposed by Immanuel Kant), also supports the principles and convictions related to the environmental theory of ethics.

Just like the Environmental Ethics, the Kantian ethics has two aspects in relation to environmental considerations, the intrinsic and the instrumental values of the environment. In the intrinsic value of the Kantian, the human beings are considered as the superior creatures that have sole dominion and control over the environment. In contrast, the long-term value of the environment and its non-human components are regarded as vital to the survival of the human beings (Gillroy 1998).

In accordance to the instrumental value of the Kantian principle, it is morally wrong for human beings to pollute and destroy parts of the natural environment and to consume a huge proportion of the planet’s natural resources. If that is wrong, it is simply because a sustainable environment is essential to (present and future) human well being. Or it may also be wrong because the natural environment and/or its various contents have certain values in their own right so that these values need to be respected and protected (Brennan 2008:2).

The ethical theories of economic, Kantian, Utilitarian and Environmental Ethics present differing perspectives with regard to the relationship of human beings with the environment. Nevertheless, each of these theories has a particular moral value or importance for the environment. The economic theory of ethics needs to be adhered by every company to ensure its survival, along with its stakeholders such as the employees and the community. The Utilitarian, Kantian and Environmental ethics are as important to the humanity as well in its dignified living or survival. I believe that insofar as ethical considerations or principles are concerned

My recommendation therefore is for the government to continue the clearance for deep-sea oil rigging, but the regulations pertaining to safety, environmental protection, preservation, sustainability and other factors should be reviewed and carefully evaluated and monitored. There are a lot of human activities which are equally hazardous and detrimental to the environment. We may have no option to eliminate these types of activities for economic and industrial reasons. That is why these hazardous activities are allowed and designed only upon ensuring that the safety and control of the process are well defined.

In the case of Deepwater Horizon’s explosion and subsequent sinking which resulted to a disastrous oil spillage, the tragedy could have been aborted if the safety precautions and alarms were fully implemented. Investigations on the accident are still ongoing and in one of the reports, the oil rig’s technician claimed that the rig’s alarm system had been “inhibited” for a year so as not to disrupt the sleep and work (operations) whenever the alarm would go off at the slightest hint of gases or triggering factors (Brown 2010).

If the alarm would not have been turned off, there is a chance that the accident could have been averted. If the gas leak or emission was detected through the activated alarm system, whatever triggered the explosion could have been aborted and the tragedy would not have happened. But then again, what happened to Deepwater may just be one of the symptoms of the company’s disregard for safety and precautions and concern for the environment. BP and/or Transocean, and other oil rigs may be disregarding more in the quest for more and more profits.

The aforementioned is what the government and the environmental regulatory agencies must look into. They must ensure that these types of hazardous operations have well-designed and fully implemented safety and environmental protection system. Regular monitoring and auditing should be conducted because it is possible that the actual practice may altogether be different from what has been documented and approved of for a company. List of References Bethge, P. , Jung A. , Klawitter, N. and Nimtz-Koester, R. (2010) ‘The Risky Hunt for the Last Oil Reserves.

’ Spiegel Online . http://www. spiegel. de/international/business/0,151,druck-694346,0 [July 23, 2010). Brennan, A. (2008) ‘Environmental Ethics. ’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [online] http://www. plato. stanford. edu/entries/ethics-environmental/ [July 21, 2010]. Brown, D. A. (2010) ‘An Environmental Ethicist Asks: Which is Worse-Global Warming or the Gulf Gusher? ’Climate Progress. [online] http://www. climateprogress. org/2010/06/24/an-environmental-ethicist-ask [July 21, 2010]. Brown, R. (2010). ‘”Oil Rig’s Siren Was Kept Silent”, Technician Says.

’ The New York Times [online] (July 23, 2010) http://www. nytimes. com/2010/07/24/us/24hearings. html? _r=1&scp=1&sq=deepwater%20horizon%20alarm&st=cse > [July 28, 2010]. CNN Wire Staff. (2010) ‘At Least 11 Missing After Blast on Oil Rig in Gulf. ’ CNN International Edition. United States. [July 23, 2010]. CNN Wire Staff. (2010) ‘Deepwater Horizon alarm had been ‘inhibited,’ technician testifies’. CNN US. <http://edition. cnn. com/2010/US/07/23/gulf. platform. alert/index. html#fbid=a0uePetCT02. [July 25, 2010]. Desjardins, J. (2008) ‘Environmental Ethics. ’ Ed. By Robert W.

Kolb. In Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and the Society, Vol. 5. United States of America: Sage Publications, Inc. Driver, A. (2010) ‘One week delay seen in BP relief well drilling. ’ Additional reporting by Leigh Coleman and Rachelle Younglai in Alabama, Tom Brown in Miami; Writing by John Whitesides; editing by Vicki Allen. Yahoo News. <http://news. yahoo. com/s/nm/us_oil_spill> [July 25, 2010. ] Flam, F. (2010) ‘The Dangers of Deep-Sea Oil Drilling. ’ The Philadelphia Inquirer. http://www. philly. com/inquirer/health_science/weekly/20100607_T [July 23, 2010].

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