Nearly two weeks after an explosion on the oil rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico sent millions of gallons of oil streaming into the sea, government and corporate emergency teams are scrambling to contain the environmental damage as well as cover their own backsides. BP, the operator of the rig, is preparing a containment dome to cap off the undersea oil well and is fending off accusations of cutting corners to save money as well as rushing through the concrete well capping process. Transocean, the owner of the rig, and Halliburton, which was providing several services on the rig, are still investigating and have thus far made few comments.
Meanwhile, a boom that burns off oil spills which was available back in 1994 was never pressed into service by federal officials in the three administrations since then. And some, including the New York Times, have suggested that the Obama administration was too slow to react to the environmental disaster.
The accident has thrown a monkey wrench into the debate over offshore drilling, a concept which President Obama championed after the passage of his health care bill. Former Gov. Sarah Palin has continued her support for offshore drilling while outgoing California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has reversed himself after a two-year push for offshore drilling and has now come out against it after seeing television footage of the spill.
A few things to consider through all of this. It’s always extremely easy in a knee-jerk fashion to blame the evil companies involved, and we’re already seeing some of this dynamic play out. Until all the facts are in, let’s not rush to demonize BP, shall we? And by the same token, those who are calling this Obama’s Katrina moment are jumping the gun by a wide margin. BP and the administration seem to think the accident could have been contained with private resources, and I’m not yet willing to put the onus for inaction strictly on the Obama administration just for the sake of scoring a few cheap political points.
But in the wider picture, can America afford to let this accident determine her energy policy? The Gulf oil spill is likely to be one of the worst in the last few decades, probably going back to the Exxon Valdez. Yet as terrible as this is, it is also quite rare, and could have been better managed to have a less disastrous impact on the Gulf. We cannot afford to abandon offshore drilling or oil exploration of any kind, not without viable energy solutions to take the place of gasoline – and nuclear won’t cut it, as this administration remains opposed to its usage.
Bottom line, America will still need oil for the forseeable future, and accidents like these shouldn’t sway us from our energy realities. In a magically perfect world we wouldn’t need to drill in the Gulf for oil and we could run everything on sunshine and wind power. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world, and if our leaders want to keep our economy from falling further behind, we’ll have to continue drilling for oil until alternatives can be developed to take its place, and not a minute before.
Cross-posted at The Moderate Voice