The website for the Minerals Management Service (BOEMRE) now includes a link to a classroom activity for children titled, “Drilling for Oil Game.” They claim, “It can also be used as a fun activity for younger children.”
The game involves using wooden sticks to represent drills, plastic boxes of sand, and shoe polish to represent the oil. The shoe polish is hidden under the sand and when a wooden stick is placed by a student into the shoe polish, obviously the point of the stick becomes darkened, which means you’ve hit oil!
The game is not so offensive in what it presents, but rather in what it chooses to leave out. It mentions two prohibitions on drilling: “Label certain areas as protected from drilling because of important topographical structures (i.e., coral banks) or prehistoric or historic areas (i.e., Indian dwelling grounds or shipwrecks). MMS does not allow drilling in these areas.”
Curiously, it doesn’t at all mention the potential for an oil spill, large or small. Neither does it mention actual oil spills that have taken place, nor the damage caused by them to the marine environment. Equally strange is the lack of reference to a single specific marine animal, like whales or dolphins. The depiction of the Gulf of Mexico is that it is well-suited for drilling, rather than a biologically diverse environment, which is precisely what it is. Also missing: any mention of the endangered species located there. The oil drilling lesson appears very much like a public relations move for the oil industry.
Here are just a few facts that need to be added to the oil drilling lesson:
- “Bottlenose dolphins are the most common dolphin species in the Gulf and are estimated to number up to 45,000.” (source)
- “In 2008, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the commercial fish and shellfish harvest from the five U.S. Gulf states was estimated to be 1.3 billion pounds valued at $661 million. The Gulf of Mexico’s shores and beaches, offering an ideal location for swimming, sun, and all water sports, supports a $20 billion tourist industry.” (source)
- “Each year millions of landbirds migrate across or near to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.” (source)
The Gulf is also home to endangered turtles, which would be another nice addition to the “lesson”.
Hopefully most teachers will see this exercise for what it really seems to be — oil drilling propaganda. And hopefully they won’t include a classroom exercise that blatantly omits some of the most important aspects of the Gulf of Mexico — and the risks in drilling there — into their lesson plans.
Image Credit: An Ce Ann Corr