Tuesday, May 04, 2010

WILL OUR SINKING ENERGY POLICY BEACH FUTURE PLANS?


Amazing photos via AMERICAblog

The slideshow above documents the current Deepwater-Horizon disaster off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico but it is "our" collective energy policy that is being challenged. Currently there are many offshore initiatives, especially in Africa and South America. The energy crisis is global and so is the drive for resource exploitation and economic development.

F
or example, offshore oil drilling has a big role in Brazil's future.  The subsalt oil discovery off the coast of Rio de Janeiro promises to make Brazil a leading global petrol player. So much so that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared, "God is Brazilian". Brazil is preparing in many ways for its new global role.

It's not surprising that lots of energy is going into polishing Rio's image as it prepares to host the 2014 World Cup soccer and the 2016 Olympic Games. Clearly, Brazil wants to display itself as model of a world-leading developing economy and society. Officials are even trying to change deep-rooted Carioca cultural patterns.

"Recently, in an effort to clean-up Rio's 85-kilometer (53-mile) white-sand coastline, State Governor Sergio Cabral and Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes began an ambitious campaign. The so-called shock and order initiative, modeled after former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s zero-tolerance campaign in the 1990s, is also cracking down on beloved beach traditions.

"There’s no more playing soccer and paddleball by the water from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eating grilled shrimp and fresh fruit on the sand is banned because of potential food poisoning. The metal kegs that vendors use to dispense a local iced tea called mate are inspected and the tea itself is tested. Even Brazil’s national drink, a refreshing mix of rum with lime and sugar called the caipirinha, has been booted from the beach for being unsanitary."

I guess it's possible to pass a radical ban on futebol, caipirinha and matte but how might one ban an oil spill? I know this is an "inconvenient thought" but off-shore oil problems have already occurred.





On March 20, 2001 the world's then-largest oil rig sank off the Brazilian coast following an explosion that killed 11 workers. I know that the response will be to say "that's all in the past" and that new technology has "made it safe now."

It's instructive to look at what was being written about US off-shore drilling only a few years ago on the pages of the NY Times:

"Offshore drilling has made a photogenic enemy for environmentalists since the famous spill off Santa Barbara in 1969, but its risks have been greatly exaggerated. During the debate over allowing offshore drilling in 1984, the Times editorialized in support of the drilling and offered this response to the opponents:

"Why risk populated or ecologically fragile coasts, they say, when oil is available elsewhere? There surely is some risk of damage. But the technology of containing spills and vigor of regulation have come a long way since Santa Barbara. No serious spill has marred the harvesting of four billion barrels from 12,000 drilling rigs in American waters since 1970. Statistically, tankers bearing imported oil now pose a much greater environmental danger.
"Since then the risks have shrunk further. A 2003 report from the National Research Council noted that only 1 percent of oil that entered U.S. waters during the 1990s came from extraction operations (like the offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico)."

Clearly, recent events have changed that picture dramatically.

In the report quoted above, NY Times science blogger John Tierney suggests that the shoreline states and the local people who would be effected by an oil spill should have the final word about off-shore drilling.

In California which has been suffering from an incredible budget deficit there had been a proposal to reopen off-shore drilling in order to generate new tax revenues but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has withdrawn his support saying that images from the oil spill had changed his mind about the safety of oil platforms in the Pacific Ocean.

I wonder what the Cariocas would say?

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