The emotional reaction to the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) has been intense. Within the industry, there has been incredulity and dismay. We know how much emphasis there is on safety and how much time and effort is spent to avoid just this sort of disaster. The fact of the matter is that this blowout was a shock. It has been 40 years since the industry experienced a drilling incident of this magnitude. Detractors of the oil and gas industry, meanwhile, are shouting “We told you so!” and insisting that offshore drilling be halted. The US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on May 11 to address the incident. Representatives from BP, drilling contractor Transocean Ltd., and oilfield services company Halliburton testified before government officials during the first of many expected hearings. According to an online article published by Hart, BP America Inc. president and chairman Lamar McKay, Transocean president and chief executive Steven Newman ,and Tim Probert, chief health, safety, and environmental officer at Halliburton were among the witnesses at the Senate energy and natural resources committee hearing, where Senators and the respective parties focused on technical failures during drilling operations that potentially could have caused the blowout. Nobody expected the Tuesday event to shed additional light on the actual cause, so there shouldn’t be much disappointment that no such thing happened. The event did, however, serve as a springboard for Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group, to issue a statement, which was published in a May 11, PR Newswire press release. “The current safety standards for oil drilling have failed to protect the Gulf of Mexico and have revealed significant lapses and problems in our drilling policy,” Reichert said. “This spill is likely to have a devastating effect on the Gulf’s coastal communities, its marine life and the fishing industry. New offshore drilling, both exploration and production, should not occur until robust safety and environmental standards are developed and put in place that are far more protective than those we have today. Reichert pointed out that over the past few weeks, BP has deployed a several methods to stop the flow of oil into the GoM, but has not yet succeeded. To this point, Reichert’s comments are by and large accurate. The emotional part followed, with similarities drawn between this event and the Exxon Valdez oil tanker incident and allegations that the oil will not be cleaned up. This observation was followed with an admonition against offshore drilling. “What is happening in the Gulf could just as easily happen off the beaches of the southeast Atlantic coast or the wild and pristine Arctic coastline. No other coastal communities should face the heartbreak that the Gulf is facing now,” he said. Though it is wise to suspend drilling activity in the GoM in the short term, ruling that offshore drilling should be curtailed and limited indefinitely is misguided. Only about 13% of the US OCS is available for exploration and development at present. Despite that, about 20% of the oil used domestically by the US comes from the GoM. Arresting development in would force the US to increase its dependence on foreign oil. I agree that it is important to determine the cause of the Deepwater Horizon blowout. I agree that the industry is responsible for the failure, whatever it is, and that new HSE requirements could be in order. And I agree that the cleanup is going to be costly in many ways to many people – not just to the company that foots the bill. However, emotionally charged as this event has become, the facts remain. The US uses a huge amount of oil, and much of it comes from the GoM. Before we as a nation make hasty decisions about offshore oil and gas E&P, we need to look at the big picture and determine whether emotions have clouded our judgment.
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