An industry on the ropes

Offshore Flaring

It’s hard to determine from where I sit where we’ll end up after the current aggressive disruption of our Federal Government, but it is quite clear that we have had a coup – by an industry that has lots of momentum but is backed into the ropes right now. On many fronts.

My father, himself a surfer on the waves of disruptive technologies, used to jokingly refer to the fate of those in the buggy-whip industry when the advance of fossil-fueled transportation “disrupted” their business.  But fossil fuels have become so deeply ingrained into our culture – to the extent that national prosperity has been almost inextricably linked to hydrocarbon consumption. This is not just about driving cars and propelling ships and airplanes, it includes the manufacture of the fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that drove the “green revolution,” along with the vast vocabulary of synthetic materials that make up much of the fabric of our modern human habitat.

So how does this discussion intersect OCR’s remit of understanding the impacts of noise pollution on marine habitats – and using that understanding to inform policy and practice? Well, as much as fossil hydrocarbon has infected all aspects of our modern economy, it has also infected the entire global environment. Even taking CO2 out of this discussion, most sources of pollution – from plastics and pesticides, to ocean hypoxic drivers, are all derivatives or by-products of this one industry.

Noise pollution is every bit as wrapped into this toxic mess as all of the other fossil-fueled toxins – and not just in the ocean. Terrestrial noise from fracking operations is disrupting wild bird habitats and health and pissing off human communities (and compromising their health) in the vicinity of energy-extraction operations. Of course the difference between terrestrial noise and water-borne noise is that noise in water propagates so much more efficiently, affecting much larger areas. And below the sea surface nobody can “see” what’s going on.

So the truth be told; while my springboard into the ocean noise pollution issue was the US Navy and their cornucopia of ocean noise generators, the big problem is – surprise! the Fossil Fuel industry.

Mostly up to this point we felt we were making progress – bringing science to bear in clarifying how industry and the Navy might mitigate for the environmental impacts of their noises. But with the oilmen now in charge of the regulatory agencies, they are not at all interested in this sort of progress. And as a dying industry (threatened by ever-less-expensive renewable energy, and their own over production), they are grabbing at any straw they can to shore up their business.

What this means in practice is that the oilmen are rapidly trying to externalize their production costs to the public and to the environment. But when they let lapse a 9-cent/barrel oil-spill contingency fee, or are proposing the elimination of production safety procedures to save $23 million/year, these guys are not honing a robust business plan, they are looking for coins in the couch cushions.

So make no mistake; the oilmen are not trying to establish “US Energy Dominance” in the new Global Economy, they are trying to save their sinking ship – and have the world pay for it.


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