While recognizing that the oil well accident in the Gulf is devastating, both economically and environmentally, and both to the many industries in the area and to the oil companies involved, we must try to avoid jumping into actions and reactions that harm us even more in the long run.
Aside from the cleanup, one of the knee-jerk reactions is to stop all offshore drilling, because of the fear of another accident. If this were a logical solution, it would follow that we should stop all airlines from operating because of a serious plane crash or stop all automobile driving after a bad car accident.
But stopping or severely cutting back on offshore drilling actually has a worsening effect on the environment. World tabulations of sources of oil pollution in the ocean show that oil contamination from natural seeps constitutes the largest source (46%). The second largest comes from operational discharges from ships and land-based industrial sources (37%), then 12% comes from spills from shipping of oil, and finally only 3% from offshore drilling operations, (see http://oils.gpa.unep.org/facts/sources.htm).
Stopping our offshore drilling would increase the oil being shipped in, and thus actually increase oil contamination of the oceans! Though it may be desirable to reduce dependence on oil, such changes will take many years to accomplish, and meanwhile the US economy depends heavily upon oil.
The Deepwater Horizon well employed the latest, state of the art technology and the accident was truly disastrous. After the blow-out preventer failed to shut down the well, numerous measures have been attempted, but remote operations a mile beneath the ocean aren’t so easy to implement. While BP struggles with every conceivable action to stop the leaks, the very last thing needed is for the Government to take over this work, in place of those with know-how in deep-water drilling operations. Threats, roadblocks and harassment of the oil companies by Congress and the EPA do more harm than good in resolving the problems.