Saturday, July 17, 2010

The moratorium on deepwater drilling and human arrogance

I am stunned at the pressure mounted by Gulf Coast-area politicians and businesspeople on the Obama Administration to allow resumption of deepwater drilling.

Without a doubt, this moratorium has clear and profound impacts, in terms of loss of jobs and revenue and more. So I can understand the immediate reaction to be one of "The BP disaster is a once-in-a-lifetime event! Drilling is overwhelmingly safe! Let us get back to it!"

What is missing from such a response is an understanding of the concept of unacceptable risk.

Sure, it would be really nice to avoid the financial impact of the moratorium. Sure, it is very, very unlikely that another disaster will occur anytime soon. But that's just statistics. Then there is the real world, in which corporate negligence and corner-cutting, plus the unpredictability of weather and ocean, can clearly lead to outcomes whose impact could be catastrophic.

I would feel far better about lifting the moratorium if the oil companies openly acknowledged that they have spotty maintenance histories, that BP clearly took shortcuts to improve profitability. I would feel like we have learned from this disaster if the government launched a thorough investigation of all deepwater rigs, examining all company records and the rigs themselves, verified that we don't have any other disasters waiting to happen.

In other words, we need to make as sure as possible that this entire industry isn't a disaster waiting to happen. After 8 years of Bush and "hands off" regulation, we should have no reason at all to think that these companies and their equipment can be trusted.

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