Contemporary World Issues

Offshore Oil Drilling

The History of Offshore Drilling

      The history of offshore oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) goes all the way back to the 1800's, before oil was America's main source of energy. Offshore oil drilling began in 1887 near Summerland, CA when oil drillers realized the correlation between the proximitiy to the ocean of oil sites and the amount of oil retrieved. Modern offshore drilling began in 1947 when the Kerr-McGee Corporation began drilling for oil from the first permanent offshore drilling platform. From this beginning, offshore drilling began to expand and develop. In 1953, the U.S. Submerged Lands Act was passed which was the first act to establish the United States' ownership of all lands three miles from the coast. This allowed the United States to begin to lease portions of this land for exploration and for the retrieval of resources. In 1983, Ronald Regan with Proclamation 5030 expanded America's land and resource claims to 200 miles from the coastline. This opened up a whole new range of area in which drilling was an option. However, when a ban on offshore drilling in California from 1981 was expanded to include most of the Outer Continental Shelf, this ceased to be an option. In 1990, George Bush, Sr. placed a presidential ban on some offshore drilling which reinforced Congress's actions. This presidential ban was renewed by Bill Clinton, who extended the ban to 2012. This was the ban that was just this summer lifted by George Bush, Jr. Recently, Congress voted to lift their annual congressional ban. Thier vote lifted the ban on waters 100 to 200 miles from the coast. Additionally, they voted to allow states to decide whether to allow offshore drilling between 50 and 100 miles of their coasts. This excludes the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico.

Evironmental Effects of Offshore Drilling

     Many problems come along with the lifting of a ban on offshore drilling. More offshore drilling platforms opens up more areas that will be exposed to potential oil spills. Historically, oil spills have been a major concern for many people and have led to several laws which regulate offshore drilling. Another problem associated with offshore drilling is the concern over whether or not oil rigs should be allowed to dump their wastes into the water around the platform. Laws on this problem are unclear because of the capabilities of some areas to handle the extra waste and the lack of those capabilities of other areas. The oil industry argues that dumping can actually be a more environmentally friendly way of dealing with the wastes than transporting them to treatment plants on land that can deal with them appropriately because of the fuel and energy that is used in the process.

     The first time restrictions and regulations were placed on offshore drilling was the late 1960's after the Santa Barbara oil spill off the coast of California. Shortly after this spill, Congress passed several bills having to do with environmental standards and industry. Three of these bills that most affected the oil industry were the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Coastal Zone Management Act. Each of these bills addressed the pollutant aspects of the offshore drilling. The most obvious of these being the Coastal Zone Management Act which aims to control the amount of pollution in coastal waters. This was further expanded in 1977 by the Clean Water Act. Each of these affected the waste and pollutant levels that could be produced from offshore drilling platforms. These are the wastes the most contribute to damage to wildlife and marine environments.

Opposition to Offshore drilling

In spite of the rising gas prices, there are still those who believe that allowing for more offshore drilling would not help in America's oil crisis. Advocacy groups, such as the National Resources Defense Council and Culture Change, have come out in opposition to more offshore drilling. Their argument is that adding more American oil to the market will only keep Americans addicted to oil and fossil fuels. They also argue that instead of working towards more oil, we should be be trying to find renewable energy sources that can ultimately replace oil. The fact that America is home to only 3 percent of the world's oil supply also works against those who argue that offshore drilling would lower gas prices. With such a small contribution the effect it would have on gas prices could be marginal. They also cite the negative effect on the environment that offshore oil drilling brings along as a reason to oppose new drilling.

Support for Offshore Drilling

          In the debate over whether or not Congress should vote to allow offshore oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, many people support the option to drill. Many Republicans argue that offshore drilling would lower the price of oil based on the effects it would have one the futures market. Also, offshore oil drilling could provide a way to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. Republican Senator Bob Bennett (UT) has been an open supporter of more allowances for offshore drilling. In his speech in front of the Senate, he cited the fundamental idea of supply and demand as justification for more offshore drilling. He also aruged that because of America's intensive oil based infrastructure, Americans need oil. One other thing that he noted was that offshore drilling can yield more natural gas which is another resource that is important to America's energy needs. By providing more oil from U.S. suppliers, some believe that the U.S. will become less dependent on oil from the Middle East where governments are often unstable and/or corrupt. However, there are still those who believe that the most recent legislation passed, which essentially allows for drilling between 50 and 200 miles off U.S. coasts, does not go far enough. The bill still does not allow for drilling within 50 miles of the coast where some say there is the most significant amount of oil to be obtained.

     Aside from the political battles, many Americans are also in favor of offshore drilling. Most public opinion polls find that the majority of Americans support offshore drilling because they believe that it will help bring down the price of oil. This public support has had a clear influence over actions by politicians.

*To hear Senator Bob Bennett's entire speech in support of offshore drilling follow this link:

Candidates' Views on Offshore Drilling

     On the list of issues that the presidental candidates are addressing this year is offshore oil drilling. Both John McCain and Barack Obama have been critized for their particular views on this subject. McCain has come out in full force in support of offshore drilling for oil with his chant "Drill here, drill now." Although as last as May or early June, McCain was against lifting the ban. Officially, McCain is in favor of lifting the ban on offshore drilling for the OCS, but that after it is lifted it should be up to individual states to decide what to do. McCain's support for offshore drilling is a result of his belief that the production of more American oil will create an American that is less dependent on foreign oil. Obama, on the other hand, was previously not a supporter of lifting the ban, but recently stated that he would compromise on the issue if it was part of a plan in which the greater goal is environmentally friendly and American based energy. He has also said that offshore drilling would only further America's dependence on oil and that it would be years before the effect of the drilling was even felt.


The following are videos in which each candidate discusses his particular view on offshore oil drilling:



"History of Offshore". Natural Ocean Industries Association. 28 September 2008

"Ronald Regan". The American Presidency Project. 28 September 2008

"Coastal Zone Management Act". U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 28 September 2008

"Offshore Minerals Management". U.S. Department of the Interior. 28 September 2008

"House Votes to End Offshore Drilling Ban". Los Angeles Times. 28 September 2008,0,4525593.story.


Environmental Effects:

"Committee Against Oil Exploration". Culture Change. 28 September 2008

"Clean Water Act". U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 28 September 2008

"History of Offshore". Natural Ocean Industries Association. 28 September 2008


Opposition to Offshore Drilling:

"National Resouces Defense Council". Natural Resouces Defense Council. 28 September 2008

"Committee Against Oil Exploration". Culture Change. 28 September 2008


Support For Offshore Drilling:

"Senate Approves Bill to Expand Oil, Gas Drilling". The Washington Post. 28 September 2008

"64% Now Support Offshore Drilling". Rasmussen Reports. 28 September 2008

"Bennett Endorses The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act". U.S. Senator Bob Bennett. 28 September 2008 

Candidates' Views:

"The Lexington Project". McCain-Palin 2008. 28 September 2008

"Obama would consider offshore drilling as part of comprehensive energy plan". Palm Beach Post. 28 September 2008

"McCain's Offshore Drilling Position A Flip From Three Weeks Ago". The Huffington Post. 28 September 2008


Drilling for oil offshore in Bass Strait, 2001. 2001. Department of Primary Industries. Oil and Gas - A Period of Expansion. 01 Feb. 2008. Department of Primary Industries. 28 Sept. 2008

The Biggest Oil Spills in History. 28 Dec. 2007. OILISM Crude Oil Resouces, Prices, History, and Analysis. 28 Sept. 2008

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