Drilling for Oil Way, Way Offshore


Time Magazine, 18th August

Anyone who ever doubted the centrality of oil and natural gas to the global economy should have been convinced by the political events of the past few months. As petroleum prices have risen to record levels, the spiraling price of gasoline has become issue number one in the American Presidential election. That’s prompted Republican candidate John McCain to make expanded offshore oil drilling a focus of his campaign. For years, offshore drilling has been illegal outside parts of the Gulf of Mexico due to environmental concerns, with public support. But that has reversed in recent months, with even green Californians moving in favor of drilling. Barring a sudden national move to adopt alternative fuels, we can expect that reversal to continue — as oil prices rise, so will pressure to "drill here and drill now," as McCain has put it.

Whatever that means for offshore drilling in the U.S., the real victims of the global thirst for petroleum will be overseas — areas that, until the recent price rise, were too remote and forbidding to be worth drilling. Case in point: the vast, impenetrable western reaches of the Amazon. Touching parts of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia and Brazil, the western Amazon has remained relatively unscathed compared to the eastern stretches of the rainforest, which have been ravaged by logging. With few roads, the western Amazon has remained so undisturbed that there are still new indigenous tribes living somewhere inside the jungle who have never encountered the outside world.

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