Why a Drilling Moratorium is a Good Thing

Several weeks ago, the Obama administration announced a six month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the catastrophic oil leak caused by the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig.  This past weekend on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu argued that this policy was a mistake.  Barbour went so far as to say that the effects of the moratorium will be worse than the leak itself.

They have a point.

Barbour and Landrieu are from the Gulf area.  They represent the very people who are the most directly affected by this disaster.  As such, they feel like they have their fingers on the pulse of their constituents and what they want.  What they argued is that the people in the Gulf region want the oil companies to continue to be able to drill, despite the environmental disaster that surrounds them, and despite the fact that so many of them have had their lives quite literally put on hold and their livelihoods devastated because of the spill.  And when you think about it, they make some sense.

After all, as of January 2009, the oil industry directly employed nearly 70,000 in the region, and as many as 100,000 in 2008.  A drilling moratorium will in effect put most of those people out of work.  Shutting down these companies will have a ripple effect in the region–they hire contractors that will be put out of work; they buy supplies from local merchants; restaurants and bars serve workers on their way to and from their jobs.  These companies pump a lot of money both directly and indirectly into the local economies of the Gulf.

There is also a vested interest in seeing BP continue as a going interest—if they go out of business, then they can’t be held liable for the damage they’ve caused and they can’t be held responsible for the cleanup and recovery efforts.  In other words, it is in the best interests of the Gulf region for BP to remain profitable.

Those residents breathed a sigh of relief yesterday when federal judge Martin Feldman issued a ruling that blocked the administration’s moratorium, allowing deep water drilling operations to continue…….for now.  Today, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar vowed to reissue the moratorium, refining it to include details on why certain drilling operations pose an unacceptable risk, and outlining the conditions where the moratorium could be lifted.

It should also be noted that Judge Feldman reported significant investments in the oil industry in 2008, including at least $15,000 in stock in Transocean, the company who owned the Deepwater Horizon rig operated by BP.  He also reported investments in Halliburton.

But here’s the thing about allowing drilling to continue:  The BP oil leak was caused, in part, because during the George W. Bush years, oversight of the industry was lax at best.  Some would say it was nonexistent.  We now know that inspections that were filed were, in some cases, never even conducted; that the oil companies filled in the paperwork themselves in pencil for the MMS inspectors to trace over in ink at a later time.  We know that operators were allowed to cut corners and virtually ignore safety regulations.  And we know that the MMS largely turned a blind eye.

We know that the MMS was riddled with corruption.  What we don’t know is what kinds of inspections were done on the more than 700 active drilling platforms in the Gulf.  How many are plagued with the same kinds of problems that sunk the Deepwater Horizon?  And since we can’t trust the inspections that were done, then there’s no way to know how safe those operations are, creating an unreasonable risk for yet another Deepwater Horizon.

So a choice has to be made:  To allow drilling operations to continue at a greater risk of another spill, or shut it down until such time as the safety of the rigs can be verified.

What the moratorium does is allow Ken Salazar and the MMS to embark on a mission to revisit the rigs and re-inspect them, making sure that their operations are up to standards.  The oil companies cannot be trusted, and it has to be assumed that given the recent history of the MMS, all of the previous inspections are questionable.  Which means that they essentially have to start all over.  Which will take time

Put it another way:  Is making a few bucks worth the risk of doubling or even tripling down on the mess that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean have already created?  Yes, the people in the Gulf are losing their incomes and having their livelihoods taken away from them by shutting down operations.  But things are bad enough in the region as it is.  How many more lives would be destroyed if there’s another accident that could have been prevented?  And who will be responsible the next time, given that there is no reliable record of safe operations?

This is one of those cases where it’s better to be safe than sorry.  The residents of the Gulf have suffered enough.  But by proceeding recklessly, as Judge Feldman, Republicans in Congress, and the industry are insisting on doing, their troubles could get a whole lot worse.  And next time it will be the Obama administration’s fault because they could have taken steps to prevent it, but didn’t.

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1 comment so far

  1. Nealj86 on

    Thank you from shedding light on a subject that most people who are ignorant to the facts would go ahead and agree with someone who has a bankshot or heavy pockets in the oil industry. People need to research facts instead of critize or demerit the Current administration for doing something to possibly in the future save lives. If possible please comment on the ups and downs of the health care bill.


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