To combat the climate crisis, we must stop the expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling

On January 15, 2022, an environmental disaster struck the coast of Peru when the Spanish energy company Repsol spilled 12,000 barrels of crude oil in the Gulf of Lima. The spill endangered 180,000 birds and destroyed the livelihoods of 5,000 families.

Energy company Repsol spilled 12,000 barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Lima, Peru, endangering 180,000 birds and coastal communities.
(AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Although this disaster is Peru’s largest oil spill, it is only the most recent of dozens of major spills around the world. In fact, 39 million liters of oil from offshore drilling – enough to fill 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools – pollutes our seas every year.

Time and time again, offshore oil and gas activities have threatened coastal environments, human health, and the local economy. At the same time, global dependence on fossil fuels – 30 percent of which are produced below sea level – continues to drive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to planetary heights.

According to a new analysis by conservation charity Oceana, the only way out of this mess is to end offshore oil and gas extraction and reduce future production. This is an important step towards reducing global emissions.

Offshore drilling has a huge carbon footprint

Offshore oil and gas emit large amounts of GHGs, beginning with subsea exploration and extraction, continuing through intensive processing and refining, and until the fuels are finally burned.

Excavations are also dirty. Oil extraction is useless and waste gas must be incinerated on site. This intentional burning – gas flaring – releases not only methane and carbon dioxide (CO2), but also toxic air pollutants into the atmosphere.

At current rates, these life-cycle emissions from offshore oil and gas are estimated to reach 8.4 billion tons of CO2 (including CO2e, CO2, and other GHGs) by 2050.

Ocean solutions are climate solutions

Ocean-based climate solutions envision a healthy ocean that offers both nature-based and technology-based opportunities to limit the worst impacts of climate change.

By itself, the ocean acts as a buffer against the effects of climate change. It accounts for more than two-thirds of human-produced CO2 and 90 percent of global warming caused by GHG pollution. But linking science to practical policy action is needed to significantly reduce emissions and meet global climate goals.

Experts have previously examined the potential of five ocean-based solutions — ocean-based renewable energy, ocean-based transportation, coastal and marine ecosystems, fisheries and marine aquatic resources, and marine carbon storage — to reduce global emissions.

The addition of offshore renewable energy will greatly reduce the need to burn coal for electricity. Meanwhile, concerted efforts to decarbonize the global shipping fleet are underway. At-sea carbon injection remains a controversial option for direct CO2 capture, as risks and risks of spillover remain.

Nature-based solutions also hold promise. Protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes enhances their ability to absorb and lock in carbon. Replacing emission-increasing food options with climate-smart seafood ensures a better climate And Nutritional effects.

Ocean-based solutions can cut emissions

For the first time in the history of the United Nations Climate Conference, earlier this month in Egypt, COP27 leaders were given priority for national ocean climate actions in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

But after a week of negotiations, COP27 ended with a bang. In fact, fossil fuel industry delegations in Egypt outnumber the ten countries most affected by climate change. Without collective opposition, fossil fuel interests will continue to deliberately thwart policy plans to reduce emissions.

Oceanography puts a number on GHG emissions if countries cancel inactive offshore drilling contracts and are barred from entering any new fields. Instead of continuing investments in dirty and dangerous offshore oil and gas, their money should support renewable energy development to meet our future energy needs.

The International Energy Agency has modeled future oil and gas production under exactly those conditions. In the year The goal of net zero emissions by 2050 predicts that ambitious investments in renewable energy will go hand in hand with a gradual decline in marine fossil fuels. In the year By 2050, annual emissions will be 6.3 billion tonnes of CO2e – the equivalent of taking 1.4 billion cars off the road.

A graph of six ocean-based solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
Six ocean-based solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.
(Oceana 2022), Author presented

Combined with other ocean climate solutions, ending new offshore drilling would close 40 percent of the emissions gap needed to meet the Paris Agreement.

But without immediate policy intervention, more untapped oil and gas reserves will seep out of the sea, burn and emit planet-warming CO2.

When ocean conservation meets climate priorities

It is so. Really Is it possible to stop the expansion of all new offshore drilling?

Currently, just 10 countries control 65 percent of the offshore oil and gas market. In the year By 2025, approximately 355 new offshore oil and gas projects are slated to come on stream in 48 countries. At COP27, some coastal African countries expressed interest in using fossil fuels to improve energy supply.

But locking in more offshore drilling contracts won’t ensure energy security or lower oil prices. Oil companies continue to make huge profits. But new drilling could trap coastal communities in an unsustainable industry that could pollute water, harm their health, and warm our planet.

Countries like Belize have stopped issuing offshore oil and gas exploration licenses.

Several countries are taking the lead in closing this pipeline for good. As of 2017, countries such as Costa Rica, Belize, Denmark, Ireland and New Zealand have stopped issuing offshore oil and gas exploration licenses.

The European Union, India and several island nations have pledged to completely suspend talks in the United Nations climate agreement to reduce the level of all fossil fuels. A new global emissions data tool released at COP27 will help governments hold the biggest fossil fuel polluters accountable.

We are also seeing the benefits of a regional transition to clean energy. For example, the offshore wind industry in the US could support 80,000 new jobs by 2030. And emerging markets in the Global South, such as Vietnam and India, are emerging from offshore oil and gas.

The results of COP27 fell short of the ambition needed to limit emissions in our climate goals. More than ever, we need our nation’s leaders to prioritize the well-being of their citizens over the wallets of the fossil fuel industry. A future with less offshore drilling is the only future with clean energy, healthy oceans and a livable climate for all.

Claire Huang of Ocean Climate and Oceanography contributed to this story.

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