I have a column out today about the offshore drilling disaster, and the need for America to get off of dangerous and dirty fossil fuels.
Oil spill: The drilling disaster was always doomed
By Matt Dernoga
I really do feel for President Obama. The president recently split with the base of his party and announced the approval of offshore drilling in areas all along the east coast. A few days later, in North Carolina, the president stated, “I don’t agree with the notion that we shouldn’t do anything. It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced.” As I write this, an oil slick the size of Jamaica is hitting the Louisiana coast and threatening several states all the way east to Florida.
It started on April 20 with an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers. Not long thereafter, the oil company responsible, BP, realized that safety precautions had failed, and oil was gushing out of the well 5,000 feet below the surface of the water. Since then, estimates of how much oil has been leaving the well have climbed exponentially, and it’s now estimated to be 210,000 gallons a day. Because we rushed to drill this deep so soon, we lack the technology to access and shut off the well in a timely manner. No one knows when we will be able to shut off the well, but it could take as long as three months. This could eclipse the famously catastrophic Exxon-Valdez spill from 21 years ago by the time it’s over.
While this is politically damaging for Obama, pro-drilling Democrats and hopefully every Republican who has uttered the words “drill, baby, drill” with Sarah Palin since 2008, the real blame lies with our morally bankrupt energy system. That oil rig and others like it were in the water long before Obama’s new offshore drilling announcement because of a failure by our government to enact the policies necessary to transition us away from a dangerous dependence on dirty fossil fuels. That, and too many people were suckered by the oil companies into believing we had the technology to do this safely and without consequence.
This incident doesn’t stand alone when it comes to fossil fuels. Earlier this month, 29 coal miners died in the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia because coal company Massey Energy scoffed at the notion of safety regulations. Leaks of radioactive water have recently been found in power plants in Illinois and Vermont. In February, five workers were killed in Connecticut when the natural gas plant at which they were working had an accidental explosion. Despite conventional wisdom these operations are safe, accidents happen with our fossil fuel infrastructure all the time. And every once in awhile, we get a big one.
Is it worth the risk? Not if you’re a fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico, which supplies 59 percent of the country’s oysters and about 73 percent of our shrimp catch. Not if you’re one of the rescue workers tending to the area’s 5 million migratory birds, 445 species of fish, 45 species of mammals and 32 species of amphibians. Not if you’re burying a member of your family because he or she got killed feeding our dirty energy addiction.
We can’t get off fossil fuels overnight, but we sure as hell should do it faster than we are now. That should be the lesson everyone takes away from this one.
Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.