Is it worth the risk to drill off Virginia’s coast?
This is a NASA satellite photo of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:
As of this morning, the slick is 100 miles long and 45 miles wide. It’s twenty miles off the coast of Louisiana, and due to hit the shore this weekend. If this wasn’t enough of a disaster in the ocean, if this stuff washes up on shore, it’ll be a nightmare. It’s so bad that officials are considering lighting it on fire. That’s right—4,500 square miles of flaming oil slick is preferable to this stuff washing up, so nasty the consequences would be. It gets worse: the slick is growing, because although the offshore drilling platform exploded, burned, and collapsed beneath the waves (killing eleven), the oil is still gushing up from the ocean floor, through the twisted and broken pipe, and out into the surrounding water, at the rate of 42,000 gallons a day. BP said this afternoon that it’ll take months to stem the flow, though now they have a never-before-tested idea that they can float in an enormous dome and drop it down over the leak, and then drill another well to suck the oil out of to stop it from coming out of the busted on. They’ve got no idea if any of this stuff will work, but they’ve got to do it, because the alternative is admitting that the gulf coast is fucked. (Again.)
Fear not: there are ships working to clean up the spill. They’re in that satellite photo. But since each ship is significantly smaller than a pixel in size, relative to the image, you can imagine how much good they’re going to do. The task is Sisyphean.
Isn’t there some kind of a government safety system in place to prevent this from happening? Well, yes, but it’s purely voluntary. There’s a proposal to make it mandatory, but—as the WSJ points out—none of these rules would have prevented this from happening. Obviously, BP didn’t want to have their drilling platform explode—this represents an enormous economic loss to them. If the fourth largest business in the world can’t stop this from happening, then is it even possible to prevent this kind of an accident?
Never mind all that, though: Governor Bob McDonnell is a “drill here, drill now” kind of guy:
Bob McDonnell supports the safe offshore exploration and drilling for oil and natural gas 50 miles off the coast of Virginia. This is not only an issue of energy independence and national security, but the development of Virginia’s offshore energy reserves will mean thousands of new jobs, billions of dollars in new investment, and hundreds of millions in new tax revenue to the Commonwealth.
Like many Republican officeholders, he likes to say that drilling offshore is perfectly safe—technology solves all!—and that it’ll put lots of people to work. The latter, as we can see from the scramble underway in the gulf right now, is absolutely true. BP is about to put thousands of people to work building a giant dome, scrubbing down oil-slicked terns, and scrubbing crude off of a hundred miles of shoreline. Offshore oil is good for the economy in the same sense that me breaking my neck is good for the economy: think of all of the doctors, therapists, etc. who will be put to work! Whether there is such a thing as “safe” drilling for oil, though, remains to be seen.
The reality of offshore oil is that we have to pick: What’s worth more, our seaside economy or oil? Can you imagine the economic apocalypse in Virginia Beach that would result from their shoreline soaked in crude? In the Bay after fisheries are destroyed, and the remaining fish migrate out of the area? Offshore oil wells present a very real risk, and we are not well served by a faith-based attempt to balance these competing interests. We’ve got to do the math, figure out the real risk, and decide if we want to stake our marine economy on the safety of drilling off Virginia’s coast.