How likely is an oil spill?

The Herald reports:

New spill models have depicted the dramatic impact deep-sea blowouts would have on New Zealand, spreading across our most important fishing ground and hitting Auckland’s iconic west coast beaches.

The report, commissioned by and produced by data science agency Dumpark, sought to gauge the blow-out effects of two planned deep-sea drilling locations off the North Island’s west coast and the South Island’s east coast.

But an industry spokesperson last night slammed the study as inaccurate, “fear-mongering” and “science fiction”, while Government officials also described such a large-scale spill as unlikely.

This got me thinking. How likely is a large spill? Is it 5%? 1%? Less than 1%?

The Deepwater spill of course is the worst case example. But how likely is such a major spill. I found out that there are in fact over 4,000 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. And Greenpeace is freaking out over one proposed exploration by Andarko.

One site gives some stats:

 Improvements in technology and better government oversight have made drilling inherently safe. In fact, since 1975, offshore drilling has had a 99.999 percent safety record [source: EIA]. The amount spilled has decreased from 3.6 million barrels in the 1970s to less than 500,000 in the ’90s. Believe it or not, more oil actually spills into U.S. waters from natural sources and municipal and industrial waste than it does than from offshore oil and gas drilling. As far as the toxic chemicals are concerned, specialists say most of them are at insignificant levels since discharges are regulated by state and federal laws. The mercury released, for example, isn’t enough to be absorbed by fish [source: Jervis].

So if I recall $2.2 billion is being spent in NZ on exploration. Do we want to turn that down for worry about the 0.001%?

Surely the debate should be about do we have the right risk management framework in place, not about trying to ban an entire industry.

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