Archive for May, 2010

“Drill, baby …” Oops, Never Mind

May 5, 2010

Not long ago, I wrote – pretty favorably – about Pres Obama’s decision to open up some offshore areas to more drilling and petroleum development. I said then that decades of technology improvements have substantially reduced the risks of accidents and spills.

Well, that statement was certainly factually true when I made it, and it’s no less true today. But the BP disaster off Louisiana shows that the risk isn’t ZERO. We don’t know yet just where the system failed – equipment malfunction, poor design, or human error – but there was a failure point, and it is within our ability to identify it, along with the culprits.

Oil producers and drillers have lots of incentive to avoid these disasters. It will cost BP many times more in clean-up costs and bad publicity than they could ever have saved by cutting safety and environmental corners. But even if a company has the best of intentions – and it’s pretty clear now that planning for potential spills by BP, Halliburton, et al was dreadfully negligent – familiarity always breeds complacency, and it’s easy to become lax when you’re policing your own behavior.

Better oversight and regulation – by an independent organization that doesn’t have a direct stake in getting oil out of the ground – must be a major part of the response to this mess. Taking $$$ out of the hide of unfortunate or negligent offenders is satisfying, but bancrupting BP isn’t going to clean up the mess in the Gulf, bring back the dead fish, birds and turtles, or replace the lost tourism and fishing revenues.

Energy development is vital to our individual economic health and to our country’s basic security. But debacles like the BP mess underscore the urgency of developing alternative sources, along with more effective and reliable regulation of oil and coal resources.

And the fact that our near term energy mix will have to include a fair amount of oil that’s not from the Middle East as a bridge to a non-fossil fuel future underscores the urgent need for an independent regulatory body with the resources and teeth to make sure industry doesn’t cut corners when it comes to safety and the environment.

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