(September 3, 2010)-It’s impossible to neglect the dominant role petroleum-based products play. My entire morning routine is made possible by fossil fuels. I feel their impact when I drink water from a plastic cup, to when I burn gallons of gasoline to get to work. I fully understand the vital position the energy industry fulfills in bolstering the U.S economy, whether it is the millions of jobs pumping money into the states, or the actual energy that a modern civilization requires. I’m no starry-eyed dreamer planning to arise next week to a pollution-free green energy Mecca. I am aware of the dirty realities of our cushy existence. I see the necessity of oil and natural gas today. However, painfully little time and resources have been dedicated to managing potential disasters, save repeating operations that failed 30 years ago. Consequently the deep drilling moratorium should stand until we are equally competent at accident management and resource extraction.
The Deep Water Horizon exploded on April 20, 2010. It is now September. The rogue well has still not been completely sealed. Millions of gallons of oil erupted into the fragile ecosystem. People across four states were thrust out of businesses and livelihoods. Animals died across the gulf coastline. Yet, the real disaster was the completely incompetent response to the ensuing gusher.
To be fair, disasters don’t happen often. Most compare this incident to the last major problem, which occurred at least twenty years ago. The army of engineers and scientists excelled when planning and drilling wells. When accidents do happen, they are large-scale horrors. I kept hearing one phrase that terrified me. Every solution proposed carried the “…but this has never been attempted before.” disclaimer. This is not warm, fuzzy, reassuring news. After the initial explosion, the battalion of specialists looked like incompetent amateurs. Scientists tried everything that failed during the last gulf spill. They, incredulously, had not even thought of how to improve emergency response protocols. There are almost 4,000 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. The calamity eclipsing the summer months was due to just one. It’s quite terrifying to imagine a second rig experiencing a failure during that time.
By now the comparisons and counter arguments are brewing in your brains. How about the auto industry and its recent rash of recalled vehicles? Others retort that flights are not grounded when crashes occur. That logic doesn’t hold water. When cars fail, they can be fixed; the same goes airplanes. Even when they fail mysteriously, they rarely cripple 2 multi-billion dollar industries and render 4 states toxic. Deep water wells are different. When they blow it is a big deal; a monstrous problem if no one can stop it 100 days later. A moratorium on Toyota would have been sensible if the situation became untenable. Besides, less than 40 rigs out of 4,000 are affected. The howls of unemployment are insulting. Would you rather your dangerous job, or your life?
Eleven workers died that day. If the loss of human lives isn’t a time to assess the situation, then when is? What if those were your co-workers? If it was a freak accident, we should know. If it was due to corporate corner cutting, would that not be important to know?
Until we know what happened in April, it is imperative that the moratorium stands until all wells like the Horizon are fully inspected. Furthermore, it should extend until real standards for safety are required for every off-shore operator. The families of the 11 victims as well as the millions of others affected across the U.S. deserve nothing less.