EDITORIAL: Drilling dangers

By NEMS Daily Journal

The environmental disaster in progress along the Gulf Coast won’t end the political calls to “drill, baby, drill,” but it will likely mute them for a while.
A giant oil slick threatening the livelihoods of thousands – not to mention fragile coastal ecosystems, including Mississippi’s – isn’t a backdrop conducive to the idea that all America needs to do to ensure its current and future energy needs are met is to tap its existing oil reserves.
The plain fact is, offshore oil wells pose environmental risks. The results of the explosion at the BP rig 40 miles off the Louisiana coast that killed 11 workers make that abundantly clear, and those who dismiss the significance of such risks have lost a big dose of credibility.
The seafood and tourism industries – both vitally important to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, and thus to the state as a whole – are only the most obvious losers in what may go down as the biggest oil spill in American history and one of the nation’s worst environmental disasters.
President Obama on Friday said no new oil drilling leases would be issued unless safeguards are in place to guard against a recurrence of the BP spill, which over the weekend was pouring 5,000 barrels of oil a day – or 200,000 gallons – into the Gulf.
“Let me be clear: I continue to believe that domestic oil production is an important part of our overall strategy for energy security,” the president said. “But I’ve always said that it must be done responsibly for the safety of our workers and environment.”
Obama only recently had lifted some restrictions on new offshore oil drilling.
The president is right: There is no way for the United States to meet its energy consumption needs without increased domestic oil production. But the disaster produced by the BP rig explosion also underscores the necessity of coupling that reality with aggressive pursuit of alternative energy sources.
Those who oppose, even mock, an energy policy that provides incentives for such development and that seeks to wean America from its dependence on oil – foreign or domestic – have more explaining to do in light of recent events.
Part of the answer is improved technology for deep water ocean drilling that can shut off the gusher after an accident or better contain it when it occurs. But even more important is an acknowledgment that less risky energy technologies and incentives to use what they produce must be central to our energy future.
“Drill, baby, drill” by itself just isn’t a sufficient answer.