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Published on May 12th, 2010 | by Earth Policy Institute

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Offshore Wind, Not Offshore Oil

offshore wind turbine

By Janet Larsen

The enormously devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is just one reminder that stretching out an addiction to a polluting and planet-warming fossil fuel poses risks to our health, our environment, and our economy.

U.S. oil production peaked in 1970 at 9.6 million barrels per day. Since then production has dropped by almost half and now supplies less than 30 percent of domestic consumption. In 2009, the United States spent nearly $200 billion on oil imports to make up the difference.

Graph on U.S. Oil Production, Total and Offshore, 1900-2009

With oil wells on land getting tapped out, U.S. oil production would have fallen off even more precipitously than it did if not for offshore oil. Offshore oil production now comprises about a third of the U.S. total. Yet remaining resources are limited and are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. As BP’s inability to staunch the Deepwater Horizon oil spill starkly illustrates, controlling extraction from almost a mile below the sea surface is incredibly difficult and dangerous.

The era of “easy” oil is over. As Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, recommends for the world, “we should not cling to crude down to the last drop – we should leave oil before it leaves us.”

Offshore wind: A viable alternative to offshore oil drilling

Fortunately there are alternatives. Much of the U.S. oil consumption of nearly 20 million barrels a day goes to run vehicles, the same vehicles that get city commuters stuck in traffic for a cumulative 4.2 billion hours a year, costing society some $87 billion, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. To cut dependence on oil, transportation options can be expanded beyond single-passenger vehicles to bus rapid transit, light rail, high speed rail, and space for bicycles and pedestrians.



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6 Responses to Offshore Wind, Not Offshore Oil

  1. Juanpablo Wright says:

    Janet,

    Good afternoon. My name is Juanpablo Wright, and I’ve been keenly following all the issues facing the gulf coast the past few weeks. I searched oil spills and your piece pulled up. Frankly I agree with your conclusions on oil and wind power.

    However, I have a resource you might be interested in if you decide to write an article more focused on the oil spill. I have been working with a little known company called Oppenheimer Biotechnology Inc. (www.obio.com). They’re an Austin, Texas-based company, and they have been instrumental in green oil spill clean-up at sites all around the world (Japan, South Africa, Gulf of Mexico) for the past twenty years.

    They grow, harvest, and sell hydrocarbon digesting microbes – essentially they have a product and application techniques that could help solve much of the current situation facing Gulf coast communities and avert environmental disaster. Their product – The Oppenheimer Formula – is absolutely staggering. Their microbes literally digest oil and convert the oil to non-toxic, environmentally beneficial by-products (i.e., fatty acids, enzymes, carbon and water). The Oppenheimer Formula is listed as a Microbiological Culture on the EPA’s National Contingency Plan Product Schedule and it is an all natural product (as opposed to a genetically modified one).

    Since 1991 OBI has been helping companies and governments all over the world clean up oil spills. For example they conducted the first open water test of microbes on oil back in the Gulf of Mexico with the Mega Borg accident (you can see a video about it on their website) – the results were absolutely incredible. They’ve helped with spills in Africa and Japan all with excellent results – leaving the water and land in much better environmental balance compared with normal methods of containment and clean up.

    They’re terrific people and I would love to help them receive more consideration as a viable natural solution for this crisis or merely raise awareness that their product exists in this country. The current solutions being implemented or considered range from the ridiculous to the quite harmful. This solution is simple and actually converts the oil to byproducts that can be beneficial for the environment. To have this potential solution brought to the public’s attention would be tremendous. Any help would be greatly appreciated. If you have questions please feel free to email.

    Warmest Regards,
    Juanpablo Wright

  2. Mark Andrews says:

    I agree the oil spill is a disaster. However, we just a project acceptable on Cape Cod for a wind farm. The government came down and there were some discussions about the award. After everything was in place (other than the law suit by the Native Americans) then the cape residents were told they would be paying 4x-5x the existing rate and they had no choice. So we are subsiding the building and then paying extra ordinary rates. Most of the year long residents on the cape are retired. Can sustainability that drives cost 4-5X be sustained?

  3. Phil Wilson says:

    We’re at a very interesting point in time at the moment with some amazing technologies being created that are and will(hopefully) get us, as a planet, away from much of our need for large scale oil resources. Wind power is one of the most exciting as it is something that is relatively easy to tap into.
    You mentioned in your article that much of the current wind turbines being implemented are in Europe and I have say that the developments that are going on around Europe are fantastic, not only with wind power but also with solar and hydro power collecting as well.
    The latest oil disaster, as horrible as it is, serves as a major kick up the back side of many of the governments of the world and reminds them exactly how dangerous this oil can be to our planet.
    Maybe one day they’ll consider that danger more important that the fantastic revenues that they acquire from our current fueling systems.
    Phil.

  4. Pingback: Offshore WIND, not OIL :: Sustainable development and much more

  5. Uncle B says:

    Truth is, American Dream lifestyle is totally propagandized to burn as much oil as possible! Did you know, a simple conversion to track proven Euro-Diesel designs for engines can save Americans a full 40% in foreign oil imports but the popular propaganda prevents this! China provides nuclear/electric sourced, electric bullet train networks for its Patriots, America does not! Europe uses electric bullet train networks every day! America does not. Burgeoning demand by a growing Asia will drive oil prices upwards for Americans as the Yuan and other Asian currencies strengthen against the U.S. fiat dollar. America has enough Wind Power in the Prairie Wind Corridor to power the entire nation. America has a larger share of the world’s Solar power in the South Western states. Canada has in its Tar Sands more oil that all of Saudi Arabia, but require safe Nuclear power for environmentally cleaner extraction. Higher oil prices will force diversification in energy sources in America. Solar, Wind, Wave, Hydro, Tidal, Geothermal and Nuclear all provide electrical, not liquid energy – only foreign oil imports do that. Super insulation that save enormous energy have been suppressed by corporate interests. Google, Torrent the movie, “Who Stole The Electric Car” and study the fate of the “Miracle” batteries that made the EV-1 a success. Remember, Corporate power caused the gulf disaster.

  6. Dr Tim Norris says:

    Dear Janet

    Thanks you for your article. The endeauvours to move from fossil fuel to wind power are commendable. However, we are considering large expensive machines which generate modest amounts of power and have to be deployed in large numbers to make a noticeable impact on energy supply. In many parts of the World, wind turbines would not have been installed had it not been for various subsidies. As many studies have shown, wind power is likely only to supply a few percent of World present energy needs provided by the combustion of fossil fuels. A further problem with wind power is its unreliable nature: no wind, no power produced. Such variability may have been coped with in previous centuries but does not meet the expectations of modern society.

    Although politically incorrect, the only alternative power source to the combustion of fossil fuels is nuclear power. The fact is that nuclear power is the primary energy source of the universe, namely is a quite “natural” energy source. The polution issue has also not been porperly reported: which caused more environmental damage … the Mexican Gulf disaster or Tjernobyl? The World is bombarded with cosmic rays from space which has been a driving factor in genetic change and the process of biological evolution. What could be more natural than this?

    Outside the blanket of our atmosphere, stars are numclear fusion/fission reactions, and beneath out feet much geothermal energy comes from natural Uranium/Thorium reactions beneath our feet.

    I submit that, despite heroic and noteworthy endeavours by firms such as Vestas AS, General Electric, Gamesa and such like, wind power will always be a marginal energy source, and that the combustion of fossil fuels will be gradually substituted by nuclear power. The fact that countries like Denamrk have turned their back on nuclear power is hypocritical when Denmark benefits from nuclear power supplied by Swedish Forsmark reactors over the Öresund.

    In studying economic dynamics, it is clearl that monetary stimulation by Mr Ben Benanke and colleagues at the Federal Reserve is simply not working. In a Congressional hearing last week, Mr Ben Benanke admitted that the US economy is out of control: more stimulus will result in hyperinflation (i.e. welcome the Weimar Republic 1923-style), no stimulus will result in the US economy effectively collapsing. This is the truth, disregarding all the hype in the media. Dr Richard Duncan in his Olduvai Theory expresses the point very clearly, namely that avvaiable energy resource divided by the number of people alive (i.e. a computation of accessible energy per capita) shows a very sharp decline around the year 2011 (i.e. next year). Wind power does not help this decline becuase it is only a partial substitute for oil on account of the high cost of wind power. In other words, the Olduvai Theory curve will take its course whether or not wind power is utilized.

    On account of the US being the largest per capita user of oil in the World (i.e. the USA has 4% to 5% of World population and yet consumes over 25% of total World oil production), the effects of “peak oil” will first felt in the USA. This is exactly what we are observing. As many experts point out, the USA has invested in a living arrangement (large house, long commutes) which has no future as the cost of energy rises. On account of this, the pain of “peak oil” will be felt greatest in the USA. Even wind power cannot help the USA to a great extent becuase the US electrica grid is not sufficiently developed, and the USA no longer has the financial resources now to impelement a suitable electrical grid to enable wind power to provide its greatest benefit.

    The whole issue comes down to: if we want to keep our existing standard of lving, we have to go nucelar to a great extent. Wind power will help, but will not in itself keep the wheels of the WOrld economy turning.

    Thanks for your interesting article.

    Kind regards

    Timok

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