Another Perspective

If You Must Drill, Please Do So Responsibly

BP, unfortunately, is no Exxon.

By 5.11.10

The Gulf of Mexico oil drilling catastrophe obviously is not good news for those of us who believe there should be increased extraction and development of fossil-fueled energy sources -- you know, the "drill, baby, drill" crowd.

What are often overlooked about the DBDers by both environmental activists and their formerly mainstream media acolytes are the qualifiers to the chant: We want responsible drilling that, while understanding it will have some effect on the environment, that it will do little or no harm. But the desire for accountability and minimal impact is not emphasized enough by DBDers as we call for more oil and coal development.

In light of this spill, the message needs a tweak. While we enjoy life-extending and -- improving benefits thanks to these relatively inexpensive energy sources, oil and coal companies cannot be cut slack when mistakes in their work inflict serious damages on others' livelihoods and on public health in general.

As the Deepwater Horizon rig -- owned by BP contractor TransOcean -- leaks at a reported rate of 210,000 gallons of crude per day (some think it's more, even calling it hopeless), advocates for increased fossil fuel exploration need to call for greater accountability from the London-based oil giant. After all, industry experts interviewed by the New York Times (take that source with a grain of salt if you will) say BP has a spotty track record on safety and environmental concerns, paling in comparison even to the environmentalists' biggest demon:

The industry standard for safety, analysts say, is set by ExxonMobil, which displays an obsessive attention to detail, monitors the smallest spill and imposes scripted procedures on managers.

Before drilling a well, for example, it runs elaborate computer models to test beforehand what the drillers might encounter. The company trains contractors to recognize risky behavior and asks employees for suggestions on how to improve safety. It says it has cut time lost to safety incidents by 12 percent each year since 2000.

Analysts credit that focus, in part, to the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez grounding, which spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska.

"Whatever you think of them, Exxon is now the safest oil company there is," said Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy expert at Rice University

Compare that to BP's seeming incompetence in their approaches to contain the Gulf slick, and to stop the leaking:

Subsea efforts continue to focus on two fronts: first, reducing the flow of oil spilled using containment domes and second, further work on stopping the flow using a "top kill" option. All of the techniques being attempted or evaluated to contain the flow of oil on the seabed involve significant uncertainties because they have not been tested in these conditions before.

So how is a company allowed to drill below a mile of water in the first place, if it doesn't have solutions prepared for the real possibility of a problem like this? Over the weekend the media focused on BP's first containment effort, by lowering a steel chamber over the leak, which reportedly failed because a combination of gas and water formed into ice crystals and prevented its lowering to the seabed. Next BP may try -- don't laugh, and if you care what environmentalists think, don't cry – clogging the leak with old tires, according to CNN:

Engineers are examining whether they can close a failed blowout preventer by stuffing it with trash, said Adm. Thad Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard. The 48-foot-tall, 450-ton device sits atop the well at the heart of the Gulf oil spill and is designed to stop leaks, but it has not been working properly since the oilrig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 and later sank.

"The next tactic is going to be something they call a junk shot," Allen told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "They'll take a bunch of debris -- shredded up tires, golf balls and things like that -- and under very high pressure, shoot it into the preventer itself and see if they can clog it up and stop the leak."

Does this inspire confidence that BP knows what it's doing? And who will take the "junk shot" -- Fred Sanford?

Unfortunately outrage over the spill will lead to calls of increased government regulation, despite oversight failures by the Department of Interior's scandal-ridden Minerals Management Services. BP will also have to put up with grandstanding from the likes of House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, but maybe that's what BP deserves, considering that it has consistently displayed an attitude that attempts to shirk responsibility:

BP America Inc. President Lamar McKay said his company's response has been "aggressive" and said the explosion that sunk the rig was not caused by BP skimping on safety to save money.

"My belief is that that does not have anything to do with it. I believe we've got a failed piece of equipment. We don't know why it failed yet in this contracted rig," McKay said on ABC's "This Week" yesterday, highlighting that the rig was leased from TransOcean Ltd., a separate company.

Environmental liberals have already adopted the mantra that BP "put profits ahead of safety," but in a high-risk industry such as oil, cutting safety measures is a quick way to see earnings dissolve. It seems ExxonMobil learned that lesson; with $350 million expended already after only days of this disaster, BP may not get that opportunity.

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About the Author

Paul Chesser publishes, a news aggregator for North Carolina, and is a contributor of articles, research and investigative reports for both national and state-level free-market think tanks.