How Deep was the Gulf Oil Spill Disaster?

How deep into our planet do you think we are drilling to obtain the oil needed to sustain our fossil fuel-based society? It’s a lot less than it might seem considering the extent of damage caused by the drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. posted an excellent graphic illustrating the depths of drilling for oil beneath the Gulf of Mexico.

(Click on image to enlarge)

The Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster has of course prompted heightened concern about how much we are poking and prodding our planet. The environmental impact of this oil spill highlights the clear and present danger of human activities that involve probing the depths of our planet. Poking and prodding at one particular location can influence the environment over large parts of our planet. And yet, there is another perspective to also keep in mind: it is humbling to consider that all of our exploration for resources has barely scratched the surface of our huge planet Earth. The depths of all our drilling into the heart of our planet are much shallower than might seem from the extent of the damage caused by the drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

(Click on images to enlarge)

If you were to create a scale model of the Earth the size of an apple, the Earth’s crust would only be about the thickness of the skin of the apple, and:

The deepest borehole ever drilled (a 12 km deep borehole in the Kola peninsula of northwest Russia) only penetrated about a third of the way into the Earth’s crust, and:

Most drilling for oil (including that in the area where the Gulf oil spill occurred) penetrates only about 5 km or less into the crust. The Earth’s crust is about 15 km thick beneath the Gulf of Mexico. So, the drilling in the area where the Gulf oil spill occurred only penetrated about a third of the way into the “skin of the apple.”

Our probing of the depths of our planet has been (so far?) minuscule compared to the vast scale of global Earth processes, and yet that minuscule probing can have major consequences for us living here on the surface. We learned from the Gulf oil spill disaster that we are still very far from being able to predict the consequences of our poking and prodding the Earth.

The activities of humans on the scale of just a tiny fraction of the thin skin overlying the Earth’s interior can dramatically influence life on Earth. And yet, it takes a whole planet to make all the systems that sustain us work.

10 thoughts on “How Deep was the Gulf Oil Spill Disaster?

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