Tag Archives: Oil spill

Geopolitics Revisited

by Caitlin Douglas

April 20th marked the one year anniversary of the largest accidental oil spill into an ocean that released 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Not long after the accident, I wrote a post on this website about the geopolitics of oil supply referencing Michael Bradshaw’s article on the Geopolitics of Global Energy Security. The stats Bradshaw provides on both the major suppliers of oil, and the countries with the largest reserves, still intrigues me.

The Society of Biology, on the one year anniversary, released a briefing on the spill which provided numerous links to news articles and official sites. The environmental impacts remain uncertain, with some people saying that the impact is less than anticipated, while others say that the full impacts will only be felt in the long-term.

The answer to my question of last year– will this disaster lead to a push for renewable energies, or lead to the exploration and exploitation of oil in more remote areas of the globe- remains largely unanswered.

Bradshaw, M. 2009. Geopolitics of Global Energy Security.  Geography Compass,  3(5): 1920-1937.

Society of Biology, 2011. Deepwater Horizon: what does 4.9m barrels of oil mean one year on?

A Special Relationship?

By Alexander Leo Phillips

Originally coined by Winston Churchill in 1946, the ‘Special Relationship’ between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America has been tested in recent months. With splits in Middle East policy, the BP oil spill and anti-UK rhetoric by the US administration; it appears to some that maintaining the closest of ties to the US is no longer in the UK’s national interest.  So much so that a committee of MPs have even suggested that the term be officially dropped in all UK documentation.  They concluded that “the overuse of the phrase by some politicians and many in the media serves simultaneously to de-value its meaning and to raise unrealistic expectations about the benefits the relationship can deliver to the UK.”

It’s been clear for many years now that the balance of global power has shifted away from the once dominate United States to the emerging BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies, who look set to dictate the course of the 21st Century.  The UK has embraced this transition with unrivaled vigor and sort closer links with these nations. India in particular has been the target of Britain’s new coalition government; exemplified by Prime Minister Cameron’s visit there last week where he stated his intent to “take the relationship between India and Britain to the next level. [He] want[s] to make it stronger, wider and deeper.”

Britain’s ever evolving relationship with the USA has long been of interest to Human Geographers, focusing in particular on how the UK has situated itself as a bridge between America and European states such as France and Germany.  This relationship has been charted by Simon Tate in Area, who suggests that the diplomatic failures of the former Labour government where the result of an outdated geopolitical strategy.

Tate, S. 2009. ‘The high wire act: a comparison of British transatlantic foreign policies in the Second World War and the war in Iraq, 2001-2003’, Area, 41 (2). pp. 207 – 218.

Energy security

I-Hsien Porter

Our dependence on energy is increasingly fragile. In the US, oil companies are drilling deeper and taking more risks in response to the demand for cheap oil. In April, a Transocean/BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and sank, resulting in a massive oil spill. Regardless of how the situation has been managed, it was the demand for oil that meant that the oil rig, with all its associated risks, was there in the first place. Energy supplied by fossil fuel is becoming more risky to obtain.

Meanwhile, on the Isle of Eigg, off the west coast of Scotland, residents have been urged to use household appliances less as a lack of rain has reduced the amount of electricity generated through hydro-power schemes. Energy supplies are becoming more difficult to sustain.

In Belarus recently, piped gas supplies from Russia were reduced in response to a disagreement over payment for gas and the use of transit pipelines. Energy security is therefore not just a case of the geographical distribution of supply and demand, but is also dependant on complex social processes and international relations.

Michael Bradshaw deals with these themes in an article in Geography Compass, published in 2009. Bradshaw illustrates the multidimensional nature of energy security. For example, climate change policy is driving a reduction in reliance on carbon-based fossil fuels. At the same time, China and India’s rapidly developing economies are increasing their demand for energy, reshaping the challenges of energy security as they add their voices to the debate.

Geographers are well placed to understand the interface of the physical and political drivers of changing energy supply and demand. A key challenge remains in translating this into an understanding of energy security and the policies needed to sustain affordable and sufficient energy supplies.

Bradshaw, M. J. (2009) “The Geopolitics of Global Energy Security.” Geography Compass 3 (5): 1920-1937

US Oil Spill coverage (BBC News, 30th June)

No rain puts Eigg on toast watch (BBC News, 29th June)

Russia ‘to restart’ full gas supplies after Belarus row (BBC News, 24th June)

Killing U.S. Nurseries

By Georgia Davis Conover

As oil comes ashore on the US Gulf Coast from the British Petroleum drilling accident, the mangrove forests that line the Gulf Coast are in danger of dying.  The potential loss of mangroves presents a problem on a number of levels.  The salt tolerant trees sit at the water’s edge, growing maze-like root systems.  These root systems form nurseries which are crucial for the survival of Gulf of Mexico fisheries and for wading and fish-eating birds.  And, the mangroves serve another important purpose, protecting the fragile coastline.  In the hurricane ravaged Gulf, mangroves help prevent erosion in addition to disrupting storm surge.  Approximately 2,000 kilometers of U.S. mangrove coastline are concentrated in Louisiana, Texas and Southern Florida, the three states most likely to be impacted by the oil spill.  If the regions’ mangrove forests die off, not only are the fisheries and the economy that depends on them damaged, the possibility of storm damage also increases greatly.

Ostling, Butler and Dixon study mangroves around the world, most of which, they argue, are already threatened by anthropogenic practices such as aquaculture, forestry and urban development.  Efforts are underway in some areas to replant mangrove forests but just how successful those efforts will be remains to be seen.   The authors contend that the destruction of mangroves removes both protection from natural hazards and sensitive wildlife habitat.

Read: Ostling, Butler and Dixon. 2009.  The Biogeomorphology of Mangroves and Their Role in Natural Hazards Mitigation.  Geography Compass 3(5): 1607-1624.

Read the AFP article.


By Caitlin Douglas

April’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a sobering reminder of the environmental and social implications of the USA’s dependence on oil. In 2009, Michael Bradshaw wrote an excellent and enlightening article in Geography Compass on the ‘Geopolitics of Global Energy Security’. The USA accounts for only 5% of the world’s population but consumes 25% of its oil. It is the third largest producer of oil (8%) but still imports nearly 60% of its petroleum needs. America’s domestic supply of oil peaked in the 1970s and has been declining ever since, making it ever more reliant on imported oil.

Interestingly the five major suppliers of crude oil and petroleum products to the USA are: Canada (18%), Mexico (11%), Saudi Arabia (11%), Venezuela (10%) and Nigeria (8%).  Only a relatively small proportion of oil is sourced from the Persian Gulf. This balance may not, however, always be an option as the top five countries with proved oil reserves are in the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, UAE).

Securing and maintaining a reliable oil supply has been a key element of American foreign policy for several decades. President George W. Bush recognized America’s addiction to oil, but saw the key issue as the USA’s dependence on ‘unstable parts of the world’ rather than its consumption of oil. In his inaugural address, President Obama also recognised the country’s dependence on these volatile areas but called for the use of renewable energy to ease the reliance on imported oil.

The question now is whether the devastation and resulting public outcry over the recent BP oil spill will provide the support and impetus to develop renewable forms of energy or will it merely lead to the exploration and exploitation of the untapped oil reserves in US friendly areas such as the Gulf of Guinea.

IP address shortage to limit internet access Read Michael Bradshaw’s ‘Geopolitics of Global Energy Security‘ in Geography Compass

IP address shortage to limit internet access Look at BBC’s pictures on the Gulf of Mexico Oil Leak,  the Oil Spill Clean-up, and the Continuing Clean-Up

Oil spill in Gulf of Mexico: A disaster for the local society and ecosystems?

By Lee-Sim Lim

When Iceland and European countries  are facing the uncertainties from the eruption of Eyjafjallajöekull, the US is desperately finding solutions to the unexpected oil spill.  The incident happened at the night of 20 April 2010 at Gulf of Mexico, due to the blast of one of the BP’s oil rig, which further caused the rig to sunk and lead to the major oil spill.

Since the day the rig submerged, the spill already covered 12km2 and increased to 1500 km2 in a week time. Terry Macalister from the Guardian reported (6 May 2010), that the incident is estimated BP to face at least £15 billion loss. It is indeed a disaster to the company.  However, the local societies and ecosystems are actually far more likely to be the long-term victims.  It is believed to affect local wildlife and the coastal ecosystems as well as affect local economy which involves tourism.

During this period, the advancement of Geographic Information Science and Systems such as Geoweb enables organisations like NASA as well as the public to monitor and predict the oil spill since 22 April.  Geography Compass recently published Dr Paul M. Torrens’ review on the development of one of the computational simulation model class, agent-based models (ABMs) in spatial sciences, which involve its application in improving Geoweb and other behavioural geography technologies.

Based on the federal Mineral Service, there were more than 800 rig related accidents in Gulf of Mexico within the last decade, indicating the area which rich in both the natural resources and some of the US most important ecosystems may turn into disaster without handing their environmental problems carefully.

View the Read about how the incident affected the local communities so far at BBC News

Dr Paul M. Torrens’ review on ABMs and Spatial Sciences

View the Read about how the incident affected the local   communities so far at BBC News Tracking the oil spill since 22 April 2010 with CNN

View the Read about how the incident affected the local     communities so far at BBC News Unforeseen impacts of oil slick on the local society, wildlife and ecosystems of Gulf of Mexico

View the Read about how the incident affected the local       communities so far at BBC NewsComparing Deepwater Horizon’s oil spill with the past

View the Read about how the incident affected the local        communities so far at BBC News Read more on how BBC readers concerns when they wait for the news

Graphic source: NASA, 1 May 2010 (http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/oil-creep.html)