Oil drilling is getting even more extreme and dangerous

You'd think that blowback from the Deepwater oil disaster would make companies more cautious about drilling deep into the Earth in search of black gold. But a terrific article by Discover's Mac Margolis reveals drilling is only getting more extreme.

The article is wide-ranging, looking at the technologies for extreme oil extraction as well as peeking into the boardrooms of companies drawing up plans to keep the pumps flowing. Published late last year, Margolis' article is available for the first time online this week. Here's an interesting passage:

In 2010, after seeing crude oil hemorrhaging from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, fish and seabirds marinating in black sludge, and Big Oil on the public pillory, the notion of gouging the deep ocean floor for fossil fuels seems reckless, if not criminal. Yet Petrobras's gambit in the high Atlantic is a striking example of how far oil companies are willing to go in these days of energy uncertainty to tap the earth's dwindling reserves of oil. Explosive growth in the world's emerging economies has lit up patches of the map that barely flickered a few decades ago, jacking up the demand for power and straining known oil reserves to the limit. India and China will consume 28 percent of global energy by 2030, triple the juice they required in 1990, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. China is set to overtake the United States in energy consumption by 2015. And as the global recession seems to ease, oil demand is racing upward.

The result is a scramble for new sources of crude in seemingly impossible places. The hunt for extreme oil proceeds apace in the ultradeep waters off the coasts of Ghana and Nigeria, in the sulfur-laden depths of the Black Sea, under the polar ice caps, and in the gummy tar sands of Venezuela's Orinoco Basin and Canada's McMurray Formation. The Gulf debacle has shaken national governments, but it has hardly deterred them. Mexico is taking advantage of the fallout from the disaster next door-and the suspension of cross-border prospecting-to buy time for its national oil company, Pemex, which plans to beef up its own deepwater capabilities. A month after Deepwater Horizon exploded, the Australian government reaffirmed its commitment to ocean drilling, putting 31 offshore blocks up for bidding, 17 of them in deep waters. While pundits and regulators issue encomiums to safety, the most noticeable shifts in the "post BP" oil industry are a fat discount on rental rates for offshore platforms no longer needed in the Gulf and the exodus of idled rigs heading to other waters.

Read the whole article, which is completely riveting, over at Discover.