UNT expert weighs in on U.S. offshore drilling proposal

Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 20:43

A new proposal by the U.S. Department of the Interior under President Donald Trump would open more than 90 percent of U.S. coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling.  Aaron Roberts, a University of North Texas associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and the Advanced Environmental Research Institute is an expert in environmental toxicology and risk assessment and he discusses the potential implications for marine life.  

“Research has shown that even short-term exposure to relatively low amounts of oil can have an impact on the development and survival of some species,” Roberts said. “This includes Mahi-Mahi, red drum, various other fish species, snails and crabs.”

Roberts, who studies the effects of crude oil on marine species and has published numerous papers on the topic, adds that the risks to marine life are inevitable.

“The public should understand that there will be another spill. We tend to focus on the big news spills – Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon – but many smaller spills occur in the interim,” he said. “Still, increased drilling activity increases the risk of an accident and potential environmental impacts. The public has to weigh whether those risks are worth the potential benefits.”

Roberts adds that, if the U.S. is going to allow offshore drilling, then focus should be on building environmental protections.

“The public certainly doesn’t want an oil spill to occur, and neither do the oil companies,” he continues. “The question is how much risk is the public willing to accept, and what level of safeguards and oversight does the public want to ensure that companies drill as safely as possible. In this case, the Trump administration has decided that the potential impacts on the environment are outweighed by the potential benefits of drilling. The Obama administration obviously felt otherwise. Given the rollback of regulations and oversight in various sectors by the Trump administration, my concern would be whether the United States is expanding offshore drilling while also cutting back on the necessary safeguards to help reduce the risk of a spill or accident.”

Roberts conducts research with UNT faculty Dane Crossley, Warren Burggren, and Ed Mager on the effects of crude oil on marine species. Roberts’s latest research with Australian scientists and Abt Associates on the impact of offshore produced oil on two fish specifies in Australia has been accepted for publication in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.


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