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Offshore drilling: a worrying development

Nowadays, it represents a third of the global hydrocarbon production, despite still being the most risky way to exploit in regards to the environment. Since the 50′, oil and gas drilling from seafloor has been constantly growing strong, taking the opposite direction of an energy transition. Those offshore activities have been ranked in second place among the 3 main concerns expressed by citizens during the “Voice for the Oceans” consultation, led by Surfrider Foundation Europe in preparation of the 2019 European elections.

The big rush towards offshore hydrocarbon

In 2010, 20% and 28% of the remaining oil and gas stock was estimated to lay under the ocean floor. The discovery of this major fossil fuel supply led to drilling in industrial quantities, at a global scale. Despite the diversification and the recent expansion in harvesting land-based hydrocarbon, the share of offshore production has actually never dropped.

Quite the opposite, the trend is rather going up. Allowing more energy autonomy, offshore drilling received massive investments from the states, valued to a sum of a 100 billion dollars per year. This is the case for Europe, who today produces 17% of oil buried under the ocean floor.

Offshore drilling always riskier

Beside climate change resulting from the combustion of those fossil fuels, their extraction also has direct consequences on the ocean and coasts. Noise pollution for cetaceans, microplastic use, grounding of oil tankers, leaks of hydrocarbons, are many of the problems because of which offshore drilling contributes to highly disturb the ecosystems.

On top of that, the exhaustion of stocks is driving the energy companies to dig deeper and deeper. They use extremely developed and expensive technology, whose complexity increases the risk of accident. The malfunction of an oil rig in Mexico Gulf in 2010 caused one of the worst oil spill in history. The 780 million litters of oil discharged in the ocean during 85 days highlighted the lack of liability of those infrastructures and those who exploit them.

Against a deregulated offshore exploitation

Surfrider Foundation campaigns for a prohibition, in the protected marine area and buffer zones surrounding them, of this high level risk activity. Through its Coastal Defenders movement, the association leads with committed volunteers and other partner NGOs, actions of local fights for the protection of marine and coastal environments. Several successes have already been won regarding projects of offshore exploration and drilling in Europe, including in Germany, France, Spain (Canaries and Baleares in process) and Portugal.

The “Voice for the Ocean” consultation has also allowed to draw concrete solutions to this issue, which will feed the Surfrider expertise and campaign plea. Three quarters of the citizens have for example asked a total or partial moratorium of the exploration and exploitation of oil and gas, and a strong rallying in favour of renewable energy has been highlighted.

Very relevant solutions, when we know that in order to respect Paris agreement, European Union has to reduce its greenhouse gas emission by 40% compared to 1990 by 2030. The review of the European legislation on offshore activities (Directive regarding the security of oil and gas operations at sea) should take place in 2020.

More information on
Voice for the Ocean