Exploration Generation. What are the impacts of oil mining and why should geographers care?

The Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico

Damien Carrington recently reported that 1/5 of offshore oil now comes from deepwater; we have taken much of what we can from the surface and now need to access new reserves (Carrington, 2012). Disasters such as Deepwater Horizon will happen as a result, but the demand for oil is higher than the concern for the environment. Exxon Mobil has predicted that global energy demand is set to rise by 35% by 2030 (Habiby, 2011), suggesting no slowing in the burning of fossil fuels. Whilst environmental groups work hard to protect our planet, the USA are set to construct Keystone XL, Norway are striding towards oil exploration in the delicate environment of the Arctic, and companies are now land grabbing in areas of untapped reserves, displacing indigenous groups and causing environmental degradation (Vidal, 2012). All this, because we “have ourselves locked into a system…organised in such a way as to cause harm…to decent human survival” (Chomsky, 2011).

Oil mining will continue to the point where it is no longer economically viable. At the recent Climate Conference in Durban, the countries sitting on the world’s biggest reserves were those less enthusiastic about reaching a new deal (Clark, 2012), meaning that other countries found it harder to reach a climate agreement; however these countries all use oil and all need to cut emissions. At one point the Venezuelan delegate, Claudia Salerno, stood on her chair, banged her nameplate and told the UN chair that he was ignoring the views of developing countries; consider however, that Venezuela sits upon one of the world’s largest oil reserves (Vidal & Harvey, 2011). Consider also that Canada unilaterally pulled out of Kyoto and the USA, whilst maintaining their environmental concern stance, are currently negotiating Keystone XL’s construction; the USA may be stereotyped as ‘oil obsessed’, but their environmental exploits don’t stand up to much, and reading Amy Watson’s article regarding the American environmental attitude is highly illuminating.

Special Presidential Envoy for climate Change from Venezuela Claudia Salerno Caldera raises her flag on a point of order during the final day of negotiations of the COP17 Climate Change Conference at International Convention Centre in Durban on December 10, 2011.

So who gets justice here? It isn’t fair to ask countries who did not create the climate problem to help curb it now, but it is also not fair to allow them to have uncapped emissions of greenhouse gases. Increasing population (1.3% per year between 1996 and 2006 (Mitchell, 2012)) is now putting more pressure on resources, and certain groups are highly vulnerable to climate change; Denton (2002) found that poor women in developing countries were affected most by environmental degradation. The consequences of climate change will cause huge social injustice as well as environmental impacts such as sea level rise, atmosphere warming, desertification, ecosystems depletion and more, and all these will have an impact upon humans.

Projections for World Population Growth up to 2050.

As geographers, we are “uniquely positioned to study the social, cultural, ethical and political impacts of climate change” (Brace and Geoghegan, 2011: 196). Geographical science has given us excellent understanding of how the climate is changing and why; combine this with an awareness of current social and cultural issues, and an inherent concern with the environment, and geographers suddenly have a very broad understanding of the issue of climate change. More than the oil companies and the governments that allow their exploration, geographers hear the voices of those whose lives will be changed by global warming.


US filmmaker Craig Rosebraugh’s forthcoming documentary, snappily named ‘Greedy Lying Bastards’, looks set to highlight the corruption in the fossil fuel industry (Hickman, 2012). The trailer tells us that “One industry … can create law, bypass regulations, control information and stifle dissent. Politicians become pawns. Climate changes and they get away with murder” (Greedy Lying Bastards, 2011). Provocative, right?  Rosebraugh’s film will no doubt further the debate against big oil. See the trailer below.



 Picture References

  1. http://oceandoctor.org/tri-national-collaboration-resource-page-bp-deepwater-horizon-oil-spill/
  2. http://www.firstpost.com/topic/place/venezuela-special-presidential-envoy-for-climate-change-from-image-07ok4Bd2wO8vH-40-1.html
  3. http://www.sustainablescale.org/areasofconcern/population/populationandscale/quickfacts.aspx

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