BP Lost Big, But The Whole Industry Gambles

Check out the opinion piece I just wrote for www.voicesoftomorrow.org. It should show up on their site soon, but you’re getting a sneak peek here.———–Approaching the 3-month mark of BP’s oil drilling disaster, the question remains – will the nation continue to let the oil industry gamble with our coast and Gulf?”Hubris and willingness to cut corners, which appears to be the root cause of the disaster, was common among numerous oil companies. All of the companies have been gambling for a long time, and it just so happened that BP lost and we’re paying the price.” Cynthia Sarthou, Gulf Restoration Network Executive Director, recently testified before the President’s Oil Spill Commission.Looking at the facts, it’s clear that BP is not a rogue actor when it comes to taking huge risks in the pursuit of enormous profits. Over the past ten years, numerous oil companies have had numerous safety violations, been forced to pay fines, and spilled oil off-shore. It’s the lesser known companies that top the list for safety violations, like Apache Corporation (18), Forest Oil Corporation (11), and UNOCAL (bought by Chevron in 2005) (11), along with BP (11). Before the Deepwater Horizon, BP led the pack for spills over 50 barrels in the Gulf with 22, but Shell was right behind with 21 and Chevron had 17.And all of these occurred at a time when regulatory oversight was incredibly lax.As a 16-year old environmental organization that is exclusively focused on the health of the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Restoration Network was the first to flyover the BP disaster site, and we’ve been monitoring the inadequate clean up and containment efforts since then. We’ve also been working to hold oil and gas companies accountable for the destruction they cause since we were founded.We firmly believe that if deepwater drilling is allowed to continue, safety and environmental regulations must be tightened and steps must be taken to ensure more effective enforcement.We shouldn’t expect the industry to police itself though, as it seems was the norm under the now renamed Mineral Management Service. There is an inherent conflict of interest when the same agency that is tasked with collecting revenues from off-shore drilling is also in charge of regulating the industry. The casino is never going to tell you when to stop gambling.The revenue collection function and regulatory function of the former MMS must be divided into two separate agencies that are housed in completely different federal departments.Part of regulating the industry means ensuring all off-shore drillers must have a truly viable response plan for catastrophic blowouts and other failures. Despite claims by BP that they could skim 100 thousand barrels of oil daily (while protecting the Gulf walrus), the actual response to this deep water disaster has been pathetic, relying on the clean up technologies that failed us in the Exxon Valdez catastrophe over 20 years ago.On my trip into Barataria Bay last week, much of the “protective” boom we saw had been pushed deep into the fragile wetlands by the winds and waves of Hurricane Alex. Dispersants being applied on the surface and at the source may be as toxic as the oil, and no one is sure of the affects from mixing them. This is just plainly not acceptable.Any new laws formulated in response to BP’s oil drilling disaster must include mechanisms that force investment in research, development, and testing of new technology to respond to drilling catastrophes. And, of course, our nation must develop clean energy sources to move us away from oil altogether.It’s the entire oil and gas industry, not just BP and the crude from this disaster, that has wreaked havoc on Louisiana’s coastal wetlands for the past 70 years. We lose a football field worth of those wetlands, our natural hurricane protection, every 45 minutes. From exploring for oil to dredging for pipelines, the oil and gas industry is responsible for 40 to 60% of that loss. Now is the time to make sure they pay their fair share for coastal restoration.The risks associated with producing this dirty energy have been huge. The winnings have been enormous for the industry. The problem is they’re gambling with what doesn’t belong to them. If I was headed down to play blackjack tonight, would you let me do it with your money? We’ve got to expect more from the entire oil industry and our federal government. Most of all, we’ve got to let them know we won’t stand for another role of the dice.You can help make sure the oil industry stops gambling with our Gulf . . . our seafood, beautiful wildlife, our natural storm protection, our livelihoods. Please visit www.bpdrillingdisaster.org to stay informed, take action, and donate to Gulf Restoration Network.

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