Friday, September 3, 2010

Another day, another rig blast

Another oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico yesterday (left).
Fortunately, none of the 13 workers on the rig were seriously injured, and the fire was quickly brought under control. There are conflicting reports about leaks, with a mile-long sheen spotted in nearby waters. (credit for Reuters/Lee Celano photo)
While it looks like this particular spill will not turn into a replay of BP's Deepwater Horizon environmental catastrophe, what about next time? How many warnings do we need before getting serious about safety and environmental regulation of offshore drilling?
This latest incident directly contradicts attempts to spin the BP spill as "not so bad" -- attempts that have focused on characterizing the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe as an isolated case of bad judgment. BP has twice pleaded guilty to environmental crimes, one a felony and one amisdemeanor, and has amassed a lengthy record of hefty fines for other violations. Mariner Energy, the owners of the latest oil rig to explode, have been cited for 10 accidents in the Gulf over the last four years, ranging from blowouts to platform fires to pollution spills.
This morning, BP announced that the spill had cost it $8 billion so far. That number sounds suspiciously low to me (though not as patently false as BP's laughably lowball estimates of the quantity of oil gushing from the well into the Gulf had been.) Whatever effective regulation would have cost the industry, it would have been significantly less than $8 billion. And regulation probably could have prevented contamination of our environment with the:
► Hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil that leaked from the well, plus
► Millions of gallons of dispersant that were dumped into the Gulf in response.
Both are fouling th environment and wreaking as-yet-unknown havoc on the Gulf ecosystem, already harmed by disastrous losses in the tourism and fishing industries, and, of course, by the deaths of those 11 workers.

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