From: David McGrath, Chicago Tribune
Published July 15, 2008 09:42 AM

More offshore oil drilling? Not so fast.

I live on Dauphin Island, 3 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Alabama. As I read the political positioning by the president and presidential candidates on whether to rescind restrictions on offshore oil drilling as a solution to soaring gas prices, I can only shake my head while gaping at the brightly lit crown of oil and natural gas rigs that surround my community.

At first, I liked the ubiquitous metal platforms, as close as a quarter mile from the beach, because they constitute good fishery habitat for my favorite sport.


Resembling the motorized contraptions we kids used to build out of erector sets, and towering several hundred feet into the sky, with sluices and cranes protruding like porcupine quills, they also serve as "repellent" for spring breakers, shooing most of the tourists to the Florida Panhandle, and regions south.

But I changed my tune after recent accidents involving the platforms, part of more than 300 accidents worldwide in the last 25 years, according to a British study. The scariest for me occurred last September when a cloud of poisonous gas was expelled by a nearby natural gas rig and drifted over the island, sickening dozens of residents and forcing the evacuation of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab School.

Exxon Mobil confessed to the unplanned expulsion of hydrogen sulfide, a fatally poisonous byproduct of all the wells. The noxious, sour-smelling gas is usually burned off by a continuous flame on the rig, which had inexplicably gone out, like a pilot light in the wind.

Exxon promised to monitor all its wells more closely, but other companies owning rigs off Dauphin Island and in nearby Mobile Bay have not offered similar promises.

Heavier than air, hydrogen sulfide settles in low areas, and according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, can inflict "nausea, headaches, delirium, disturbed equilibrium, tremors, convulsions, and skin and eye irritation. Inhalation of a high concentration of hydrogen sulfide can produce extremely rapid unconsciousness and death. Exposure to the liquefied gas can cause frostbite injury."

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