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Deepwater deceptions (updated)

June 29, 2010 - Jim Anderson

Andrew Napolitano is a former New Jersey Superior Court judge who works as a political and legal analyst for Fox News Channel.

On one of his main topics in recent weeks, he is either uninformed or trying to mislead.

On several Fox shows, Napolitano has claimed the federal government and environmentalists are to blame for the Gulf oil spill because they forced BP into deeper waters. The other day, on Shephard Smith’s “Studio B,” Napolitano said the government directed BP to drill at 5,000 feet because “that’s where our environmentalist folks think you should dig.”

There are lies and then there are whoppers. You need two hands — but only half a brain — to grasp this one.

Here’s the scoop: Oil companies are drilling in deep waters because that’s where the oil is.

Shocking, I know.

On March 12, 2010, Newsweek published a story, “The Dangerous Quest for Deepwater Oil,” that carried this subheadline: “Miles below the ocean floor lies enough oil to power the U.S. for more than a decade—and perhaps our best shot at energy independence.”

Easily accessible oil is in decline around the globe, the story notes. Thus, a push towards deeper waters is ongoing, risks and all, particularly in the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico.

The story was published less than two months before the Gulf spill. It included a cautionary word from, gasp, an environmentalist:

"You're going to have spills," says Felicia Marcus, Western director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Marine life and coastal communities will be impacted, (so) we have to start asking ourselves if it's worth it."

I wonder how Marcus would now react to Napolitano’s claim that “environmentalist folk” are the culprits in the Gulf spill.

If you’re still not sure whether the oil companies drill in deep waters by their own volition, consider this:

In 2008, the Minerals Management Agency reported that the average deepwater well in the Gulf produced at about 20 times the rate of the average shallow-water completion.

Also, according to MMS, there are 3,417 active shallow-water platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil companies are still working in shallow waters, but those wells are just not as productive as the deepwater projects.

Government, yes, must accept its share of the blame for the Gulf tragedy. Its oversight of drilling operations was sorely inadequate.

That said, I’m at a loss to explain Napolitano’s position. Again, he’s either uniformed or devious.

You don’t suppose he could be both?

7-2 addendum:

Ron Deuter raises some issues in his blog (“Out of oil in shallow water?”) that are valid. Many potential offshore sites, as well as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, remain untapped.

However, by all appearances the deep-water Gulf carries far more potential than ANWR. Even with limited development, before the Horizon blowout, the deep-water Gulf was already producing more oil than what has been projected for ANWR at its peak (20 years from now, as estimated by the U.S. Energy Information Administration).

Again, in trying to lay blame for the Gulf spill on environmentalists, Judge Napolitano misleads viewers into believing that a well is a well is a well  — and that the location of drilling platforms is entirely government-driven.

But let’s say the oil companies were actually ordered to abandon the deep-water Gulf in exchange for near-shore locations that are now off limits. They’d howl. They’d want both.

Even now, they’re drilling in deep waters off Nigeria, Angola and Brazil. Not because additional shallow sites are necessarily off-limits, but because the deep water is where so much oil lies.

I’m simply asking readers to recognize the dubious nature of the claim that “the government and the environmentalists make the oil companies do it.” If the oil companies drill in ANWR, and there’s a spill there, will the next excuse be that it’s because they can’t drill in Yellowstone?


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