The big lie about drilling for oil
April 26, 2010
The tragic explosion of a drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana exposes the big lie espoused by the oil industry and its minions in the Florida Legislature: Modern drilling is harmless.
The accident apparently killed 11 workers and released hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. There are reports of a spill 10 miles wide and 10 miles long.
The blowout occurred 50 miles off the coast.
Florida drilling champions such as Rep. Dean Cannon of Winter Park and Sen. Mike Haridopolos of Melbourne want to allow rigs in state waters, between three to 10 miles from shore.
Cannon is scheduled to become House speaker later this year, and Haridopolos is scheduled to become Senate president. Both appear intent on pushing drilling legislation through the Legislature next year.
Florida residents should be appalled.
As the Louisiana accident illustrates, drilling - even far offshore - always poses the danger of ecological disaster if something goes awry.
The Coast Guard has found continuing seepage at the rig site, and the initial spill is huge. There also are fears that 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel abroad the Louisiana rig could be released.
Dozens of vessels that can skim oil from the water were sent to try to contain the spill.
Even so, Louisiana officials fear coastal damage.
Ed Overton, a Louisiana State University environmental sciences professor, told The Associated Press that the oil that does not evaporate will turn into a pasty mess that ultimately breaks apart into small chunks of oil residue.
"It's going to be a god-awful mess for a while," he said.
Perhaps, the winds will be favorable and Louisiana's coast will be spared.
But that is no certainty, even with the rig 50 miles away.
Florida residents should consider what would happen if even a minor accident occurred within 10 miles of our shores.
The devastation of Florida's beaches - and its $65 billion-a-year tourism industry - would be immediate. There would be little time to contain any spill.
And despite the industry claims, this accident is hardly isolated. Since 2001, there have been 858 fires and explosions in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Minerals Management Service.
Last year a blowout occurred on a "jack-up" rig, like the ones proposed for Florida, in the Timor Sea off Australia. It spilled 300 to 400 barrels of oil a day for weeks.
This is not to argue that offshore drilling should be halted. No enterprise is risk free.
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is correct to call for a review of the oil industry's safety claims and to push for more safeguards, but there is no denying the nation needs to increase its domestic energy supply. That must include oil as well as alternative sources such as solar and wind.
This is why we thought President Obama's recent plan to expand drilling - allowing it 50 miles off the Atlantic coast and at least 125 miles off the Florida Gulf coast - was justified.
The plan would increase production but maintain reasonable - though hardly foolproof - buffers for the coast.
Americans have to accept some tradeoffs if we want an abundant and affordable energy. But we must balance the risks intelligently.
To permit drilling in Florida's coastal waters where there is no margin for error is unnecessary and irresponsible.
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