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Drilling for Oil in the Arctic Offshore: A Moral Analysis


The case study investigates the fallout from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It poses the issue of whether offshore oil drilling in the Arctic is legitimate. This analysis will delve into the relevant facts of the case, clarify key concepts, apply a moral standard, and articulate a conclusion.

Relevant Case Facts

In April 2010, an explosion on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig resulted in the worst oil leak in American history, impacting a fifth of the Gulf of Mexico and severely harming marine life and the ecosystem. Numerous animals were harmed in the spill, and eleven personnel lost their lives. BP coordinated with government organizations to control and clean up the leak. Individuals in the fishing, prawn, and tourist sectors had adverse economic effects. Although BP set up a $20 billion fund for compensation, disagreements over how much is enough still exist.

The explosion prompted the Justice Department to ban Gulf of Mexico drilling on April 30, 2010. President Obama banned Arctic oil and gas production under the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Land Act. But subsequently, the Trump administration allowed oil and gas production around the US coastlines in the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic.

Concepts Relevant to the Case.

  • Impact on the Environment: The Arctic’s isolation, ice cover, and short winter days provide particular difficulties for oil rig operators. Environmentalists are concerned about the potential for severe and challenging-to-control environmental effects of an oil leak in such settings.
  • Economic Considerations: The Deepwater Horizon disaster brought about financial troubles for people in the Gulf area, bringing attention to the possible financial effects of oil spills on nearby towns. Determining whether to drill in environmentally sensitive places requires weighing the potential economic rewards against the associated environmental concerns.
  • Government Regulation: The United States government responded to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe with short-term actions, like the drilling restriction, and long-term ones, such as the drilling pullout from several Arctic regions. This emphasizes the government’s involvement in controlling and reducing the dangers connected to oil exploration.

Applying a Moral Standard to the Case

The case is evaluated by analyzing the moral implications of offshore oil drilling in the Arctic. Assessing the possible advantages and disadvantages to human and environmental interests is necessary for practical ethics, which aims to promote well-being generally.

Arctic exploration may boost economic growth, job creation, and energy independence. However, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe showed moral concerns about environmental harm. The ecological sensitivity and difficulty in controlling spills are only two of the Arctic environment’s particular challenges, which increase the potential impact. Justice and fairness are other factors that are taken into account. The economic impact on local communities, as seen in the Gulf of Mexico, raises concerns about the equitable distribution of the advantages and disadvantages of oil drilling.


Drilling for oil offshore in the Arctic presents grave ethical issues in light of the hazards to the environment, the economy, and the lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The dangers exceed the rewards, given the difficulties in controlling spills in isolated and hostile environments and the possible damage to the delicate Arctic ecology. Preventive measures that put nearby populations’ health first and environmental preservation are morally right. Drilling in ecologically vulnerable places must be subordinated in favour of environmentally friendly and sustainable energy sources.


Boss, J. (2020). Analyzing Moral Issues (8th ed.). McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Gabbatt, A., McGreal, C., & Macalister, T. (2018, February 14). Deepwater Horizon: US bans new drilling in Gulf of Mexico. The Guardian.


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