Op-Ed: Rathlin — Prelude to an environmental tragedy

Posted Mar 22, 2013 by Alexander Baron
Ever heard of Rathlin? Probably not. Ever heard of Deepwater Horizon? Sure you have. Five years from now you may hear the name Rathlin in the same sentence.
Rathlin Island - an area of outstanding natural beauty. As long as its denizens manage to keep the o...
Rathlin Island - an area of outstanding natural beauty. As long as its denizens manage to keep the oil companies out.
Creative Commons
With its warring white tribes and a troubled relationship with its larger neighbour going back centuries, one would have hoped that the island of Ireland - South and North - would have seen enough aggravation. While there are still occasional murders by renegade so-called Republicans, the recent violence has been nothing to what was seen in particularly the 1970s, when there were even terror attacks on the Mainland.
Now however, a new threat is facing the Emerald Isle, and unlike the men of violence, it comes dressed in sheep's clothing.
Rathlin is a small island off the Irish coast. With a population of around a hundred, it is an area of outstanding natural beauty renowned for its wildlife, especially its birds. The RSPB even has a special section on its website devoted to the Rathlin seabird colony.
Now, all that is under threat from oil. This morning, the BBC reported that Providence Resources of Dublin is seeking to extract an estimated 530 million barrels of oil from its coast. What does this mean: jobs, prosperity, a booming local economy? How about another Deepwater Horizon oil spill? If that sounds alarmist, consider this, you can't drill for oil without some residual pollution. Wherever this stuff is extracted, there will be leaks. 530 million barrels sounds a lot until you do a little simple arithmetic. According to US Government figures, in 2011, Uncle Sam consumed 18,949.43 thousand barrels of oil a day, ie nearly 19 million. Let's ere on the side of caution though, let's call it 15 million barrels a day. And 530 million divided by 15 million is? 35 and a third. In other words, if Providence Resources is correct, and the company manages to extract every last drop of oil from this field, there would be enough to run the US economy for 5 weeks.
When one considers the risk/reward ratio, this is clearly a lot of risk for a relatively small reward, especially when less than two years ago we reported on a massive, eco-friendly project in the sea literally a few miles away.
Friends Of The Earth have already thrown their hat into the ring over this proposed "development" of Rathlin's natural resources. We can only hope others take up the cudgels before it is too late, and we see yet another environmental disaster on our own doorstep, or at best a magnificent wildlife reserve degraded by people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.