The Beacon: Michael Craig's blog
Two newly released reports shed some much-needed light onto a crucial question in Washington: Does domestic oil drilling affect gasoline prices?
That question lies at the heart of the debate over what we should do about high and volatile gasoline prices. Advocates for oil drilling call for broader and quicker access to our nation’s resources in order to provide relief at the pump – calls that the House has happily obliged by passing bills that would open up new areas to offshore drilling and undercut government oversight. Environmental groups and other opponents of domestic drilling, on the other hand, argue that this is the wrong approach, and that we should instead be investing in fuel efficient vehicles and alternate modes of transportation.
The two new reports provide much-needed objective and nonpartisan analyses of this crucial question, and come to the same, clear conclusion: providing relief at the pump to U.S. consumers can only be achieved through reducing our oil consumption, NOT through more domestic drilling.
The reports were issued by the Energy Security Leadership Council (ESLC), a nonpartisan project of Securing America’s Future Energy that’s composed of industry CEOs and retired four-star generals and admirals, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which provides nonpartisan economic analysis to Congress. They join a growing list of impartial publications that refute the notion that the United States can drill its way to energy independence and free ourselves from the myriad problems associated with our oil consumption and offshore drilling.
Last week the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council released a report about offshore drilling safety, and I bet you can guess what it shows: Deepwater drilling isn’t safe.
The report echoes many conclusions from previous reports on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, including Oceana’s report, "False Sense of Safety," and presents a solid set of recommendations that the government can use to make offshore drilling safer.
A few of the report’s conclusions paint a particularly stark picture of the continued dangers of offshore drilling.
The report, titled "Macondo Well-Deepwater Horizon Blowout: Lessons for Improving Offshore Drilling Safety," concludes as others have that blowout preventers, or BOPs – the last line of defense against blowouts and spills – are not designed to function correctly in deepwater drilling and so cannot be relied on. In the words of the report:
“the BOP system at the Macondo well [had] a number of deficiencies... that are indicative of deficiencies in the design process... [that] also may be present for BOP systems deployed for other deepwater drilling operations” (pg. 54).
But design is not their only problem; the report says testing is woefully inadequate as well. To fix these problems, the report calls for the redesign and improved testing of BOPs. In the meantime, deepwater drilling should be suspended, since BOPs cannot be relied upon for protection against spills.
Michael Craig is an Energy Analyst at Oceana.
It’s been just over a year and a half since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, but the offshore drilling industry is already back to full steam ahead, with as many rigs drilling in deepwater in the Gulf as two years ago.
They say it’s safe. But is it?
The government and industry have pointed to new safety measures implemented by the former Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). But little analysis has been done assessing these new measures – until now.
Last week Oceana released a new analysis that examines how effective the new safety measures will be in preventing future spills and improving offshore safety. In doing so, we systemically look at what went wrong leading up to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and conclude that the new safety measures can not guarantee against future spills, and furthermore likely would not have prevented the BP spill from occurring.
Overall, we find that the new safety measures are undermined by two factors: overarching problems in offshore regulation and flaws in the safety measures themselves.
Some of the overarching problems in the regulation of offshore drilling that the new safety measures do not address include:
- Perverse financial incentives encourage corner-cutting and saving time at the expense of safety.
- Blowout preventers, one of which memorably failed to stop the Deepwater Horizon blowout, have critical deficiencies that make it more likely they will not be able to prevent blowouts.
- The government’s inspection and oversight capabilities are woefully inadequate to ensure that companies follow the rules and operate in a safe manner.
- The offshore industry’s culture of prioritizing profits over safety has not substantively changed.
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