Saturday, May 22, 2010

Should BP end offshore oil drilling?

That's the topic of my Scripps Howard column with Ben Boychuk this week -- and a trickier topic than usual. Because I want the answer to the above question to be "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!" But given the realities of American politics and the country's energy consumption, it seems impossible to end offshore drilling entirely.

So my answer? Regulate the hell out of the industry, and rigorously enforce those regulations.

It would be nice if we could unilaterally end offshore oil drilling. Nobody likes to see the oily bird carcasses washing up on beaches, nor the plaintive looks in the eyes of suddenly idled Louisiana fishermen. The widespread damage being done right now in the Gulf of Mexico should be intolerable.

But we will tolerate it. We have to. America's energy demands are simply too great to give it up - our politicians are not going to ask us to sacrifice our comfortable lifestyles; we won't let them in any case - and the country isn't anywhere close to ready to switch over to "alternative" energy sources like wind and solar to pick up the slack.

If some environmentalists are ready to declare a moratorium without ready alternatives, however, drilling enthusiasts can be much too cavalier about the safety of offshore drilling. Large-scale energy production of any sort is almost always a complicated and dangerous proposition, whether at Chernobyl or in the Atlantic Ocean. Disasters - the devastation of whole swaths of the planet - are inevitable. So regulations on drilling should be tight, and rigorously enforced.

That hasn't been the case. The New York Times reported that the federal government gave permission to dozens of oil companies - including BP - to drill offshore even though they hadn't completed "required" environmental reviews. That's inexcusable.

We rely on oil energy because, for now, we have to. However, that's no reason to let the oil companies essentially regulate themselves. Getting rigorous about the rules and their enforcement will probably make energy a little more expensive for all of us, but the cost will be necessary. Our own ability to survive on the planet depends upon it.


Notorious Ph.D. said...

I think the key here is "given the realities of [...] the country's energy consumption..." You've known me for a long time, Joel, so you won't be at all surprised that my answer is: Consume Less.

I could go on and on, but I think I can actually hear your more conservative readers' eyes rolling already, so I'll cede the floor.

Joel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel said...

I don't disagree, PhD. I just don't think that's likely to happen.

Kelly said...

Yes, Joel, we are not ready. We do have the great opportunity to devise a standard of living that is sustainable, exportable and marketable but it is highly unlikely that we will consider that as an option. It is the next right thing for us to do, and has been since the first oil crisis which happened before you were born in 1973. President Carter has been maligned over the years (and sometimes rightly so), but it is our loss that we did not hear the wisdom in the case of his call for greater efficiency and the development of alternate energy sources in order to reduce our dependency on oil (foreign or domestic). Pogo was correct about many things, but none more so as I paraphrase Walt Kelly, I have met the enemy … and he is us.