Gulf oil spill highlights need for renewable energy

Once a glimmering example of technological progressiveness and man’s ability to defy nature, the $350 million Deepwater Horizon petroleum well was able to reach 35,000 feet beneath the water, the deepest oil well in history.

When the rig exploded April 20, the flaming structure swallowed 11 workers as it sank into the now clouded, toxic water. A leak developed and soon more than 200,000 gallons of oil per day were spewing into the pristine Gulf of Mexico.

As the price of oil skyrocketed over the past several years, chants of “Drill, baby, drill” were echoed across the country, while the need for more oil took man to the deepest reaches of the planet in pursuit.

With some oil wells beginning to dry up, newer ones becoming harder to find and the seriousness of the spill realized, focus shouldn’t be on whether to drill in the gulf, but on how and when the U.S. will begin to utilize renewable sources for fuel.

A team of USF researchers from the College of Marine Science at USF’s St. Petersburg campus recently boarded the school’s ship, the R/V Weatherbird II, and traveled to the site of the oil spill, collecting data for future investigations to determine legal repercussions.

“The question is, ‘What should we be doing as a nation to wean ourselves off of oil?'” John Ogden, former director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography, said to The Oracle. “Then develop the technologies to do so.”

While the country certainly needs oil, there should be an awakened emphasis on significantly reducing our dependence.

Continued quests for oil will only further jeopardize the country’s natural resources and economy, as more wells may dry up and the price of gas surges.

It could also compromise  national security, which is assured to any country that relies on foreign nations’ willingness to sell their resources for its survival, as the U.S. does with foreign oil.  

USF College of Engineering’s Clean Energy Research Center is one example of a proactive approach to this dilemma. Working to bring about greater commercial use of renewable energy sources, the center has already produced the world’s first 20,000-watt solar/electric charging station for electric vehicles.

Aside from electric are other alternative energy sources like ethanol, which Brazil has successfully incorporated into its society for years, becoming a world leader in the use alternative fuel.

The growing spill, which threatens Florida’s coast, should serve as a serious reminder of the vulnerabilities brought by a  continued dependence on oil.