The Deepwater Horizon accident and the resultant oil spill have brought to the forefront our dependence on crude oil. There are many saying we must find an alternative to crude oil. But think for a moment of all the things that we take for granted that are derived from crude oil. It’s not just the gasoline in your car’s fuel tank and the oil in your car’s engine. Look around you; all of the plastics, paints, home heating oil, fuel for many power plants, synthetic fibers (polyester, nylon, etc.), countless chemical compounds. I could go on and on. In our modern world, saying let’s find an alternative to crude oil is like saying let’s find an alternative to water. It’s just not practical. Crude oil is necessary and there is no getting around that fact.
Also, there is nothing unnatural about crude oil. It is just as much a part of the earth as soil or rocks. It has been here for millions of years and for nearly that long the oil has been seeping through the ocean floor into the water. I recently read a story about a now-extinct group of American Indians called the Karankawas that inhabited the south Texas coastal areas until the mid-1800’s. The Karankawas would collect the tar balls that washed up onto the south Texas shore and use the material to line their baskets and pottery to make them waterproof.
What must be done is to be sure that the crude is extracted in the safest and least environmentally disruptive manner possible. To do this, oil rigs must be located in such a way that when accidents happen, our equipment and expertise is not outstripped by the hostility of the environment in which they are located.
The problem with the Deepwater Horizon accident was not the accident itself, although it was tragic due to the eleven lives that were lost. What turned this into an environmental disaster was the location, forty-eight miles offshore and in nearly one mile of water. These conditions greatly reduce the resources that can be used to battle the leak. I recently spoke with a friend of mine that has over 30 years experience in this industry and he told me that if this same accident happened onshore or near-shore, in a few hundred feet of water, the well would have been capped within three days and the environmental impact would have been negligible.
So our Federal government’s response to the Deepwater Horizon accident was a moratorium on further oil exploration. This is akin to shutting down the entire airline industry because of one plane crash. A plane crash is a tragedy, but it is also an accident. We seem to have accepted that as long as we have these huge mechanical birds flying around and the law of gravity is in force, there will occasionally be a an accident. Despite our best efforts, it’s a fact of life.
Unfortunately, we have very little experience or equipment useful with an oil well rupture located one mile underwater. My friend described the response to the spill as playing “Mr. Wizard” in the kitchen sink. Only in this case the kitchen sink is the Gulf of Mexico.
But this is not the fault of BP or the oil industry in general. They have been forced into this situation because we have allowed the extremists in our society to dictate our energy and environmental policy. These extremist do not want any exploration or development of domestic sources of energy and they use the environment as an excuse. As a result, we get extreme policies; policies that close off areas where oil could be extracted easily and safely with minimal disruption to the environment.
The reason these environmental extremist have gained this power is that we, the American voter, elect politicians beholden to these extremists, either because they are kindred spirits or because the politician depends on the extremists for campaign cash. We must become a more educated voter. We must make sure that these candidates understand the necessity of safe, domestic oil production. Then we must hold their feet to the fire and make sure they follow through with legislation to open up easily accessible areas for domestic oil development. As we can now see, our oil industry can drill in extreme areas but when something goes wrong, the problems are just as extreme.