America must wean itself off of dependence on foreign oil, and one valid solution to this problem is offshore oil drilling and production. America’s economy is heavily based on petroleum, as though it is the nation’s blood; a necessity for survival. About 25% of oil produced in the U.S. comes from offshore rigs. Most of the U.S. coastline has been off limits for oil drilling since the early 1980s. Due to environmental concerns after an oil spill off the coast of California in 1969, an offshore drilling moratorium was imposed. Since then, the U.S. has amplified its energy consumption to where it uses nearly 25% of the world's oil. Meanwhile, the U.S. produces about 10% of the world's oil. That has made the U.S. heavily reliant on imported oil.
In September 2008, Congress allowed the ban on offshore drilling to expire. Supporters of offshore drilling say that it furthers the goal of U.S. energy independence. There is likely more oil offshore than the government estimates, because the technology for locating oil has improved since the ban was put in place. The oil is likely to be available sooner than expected because individual states have an interest in fostering the process.
Drilling for oil offshore can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per day. Therefore, oil companies like to be as certain as possible about the location of oil before they commit to drilling. One of the most effective methods they have of determining where oil is likely to be is through an acoustic survey, in which an exploratory ship fires sound waves into the water. Those waves bounce off underwater structures, such as rock formations, helping scientists to determine, from the echoes the waves create, whether there might be oil underneath.
When oil companies are sure there is oil in a particular location, they drill from ships and other structures into the underwater rock. They then pump fluid through pipelines into the drilled areas in order to extract materials that would further indicate the presence of oil. Once a company is certain that there is a sufficient amount of oil at a given location to make drilling worthwhile, it sets up a more permanent structure, or platform, from which to extract it. The oil that is pumped out is sent through pipelines back to shore. An offshore facility can pump oil from a field for decades.
Recently, oil companies have increased their search for oil in water deeper than 1,500 feet, which is classified as "deep water." While that is where the companies hope to find the largest untapped oil reserves, seeking out and extracting oil there presents unique challenges. For one thing, platforms in deep water cannot sit on legs connected to the sea floor the way they can in shallower areas, so other methods must be used to protect them from strong currents.
Exactly how much oil remains undiscovered off U.S. shores? The Department of the Interior estimates that there are 68 billion barrels of oil still undiscovered in areas where...