The latest accident on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig couldn't have come at a more significant time for the efforts to pass comprehensive climate change and energy legislation. With Senate plans to expand and even incentivize offshore drilling, this accident serves as a reminder of how costly offshore drilling truly is.
Despite advances in drilling technology and all of the precautions made, drilling is a high risk business and even the newest technology cannot prevent all spills. Fires, explosions and accidents are more common than they would like you to believe. New technology advances have pushed the envelope for drilling efforts. Expanding drilling activities into these “frontier” areas only increases the risk.
Take away for the moment the immediate danger to personnel on the rigs and look at the potential environmental and economic costs to coastal towns relying on fishing and tourism. Oceana's federal policy director, Beth Lowell discussed the dangers last night on NBC Nightly News:
The damaged well has the potential to leak toxic crude oil into the waters of the Gulf for many weeks. The coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and even the Gulf coast of Florida are on alert for potential ecological damage as the rig continues to leak 1000 barrels (42,000 gallons) of oil per day. All attempts to stop the spill have been unsuccessful so far and the slick covers over 600 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico and continues to grow.
Some people will respond that the answer is to just make rigs safer. Inspect the platforms, make regulations stronger, and really make sure they're fit for their purpose. They call for tougher oversight of the drilling industry, as well as increased legal risks for companies.
Oil companies make billions in profits each year. Yet we continue bear the risk inherent in their activities. Is this worth the cost? Clearly, this incident is a reminder that the answer is no.
Matt Niemerski is an Ocean Advocate at Oceana.