Saturday, May 15, 2010

To Drill or Not to Drill Mr. President?

One cannot but help feeling for President Barack Obama. As a candidate and Democrat nominee for the highest American office, Obama was often sceptical about offshore drilling. While his opponents were screaming “Drill Baby Drill,” the then young senator from Illinois was not convinced for his own reasons – some sound, others well – not all that sound.

As President, facing the ground realities and very real concerns about US energy security, Obama made the correct call on March 31 to permit offshore drilling off the US coastline. His opponents claimed the President was not going far enough. Some on his own side claimed he was pandering to the Republicans.

Sadly, before the dust could settle, on April 20th, an environmentally tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that followed an explosion on an offshore rig, complicated the scenario further. More so executives, from both - oil giant BP which commissioned the rig and Transocean, one of the world’s largest offshore drilling companies, and the rig's operator - did not acquit themselves well in front of American legislators by trying to shift the blame for the incident.

As both companies were trying their hardest to ensure that they do not endear themselves to the American public, the President summed up the emotions, “The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn’t...There’s enough responsibility to go around, and all parties should be willing to accept it. That includes, by the way, the federal government.”

Trouble is, even though he says oil exploration and drilling must still be part of US energy strategy, the issue has become more political than ever. Following the spill, Obama announced a moratorium on new offshore drilling projects unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent another disaster.

Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger said the accident had caused him to drop his support for new offshore drilling in his state. "You turn on the television and see this enormous disaster. You say to yourself, 'Why would we want to take on that kind of risk?” he added.

Across the political divide politicians are asking the very same questions, albeit not for the same reasons. Let us take things into perspective. No one, not least the author of this blog, or people within or outside the oil world including BP (who may have to foot most if not all of the bill to clean up the mess), are suggesting for a moment that what has happened is not terrible and tragic in equal measure.

However, the spill will make it harder for America to follow an energy policy that could actually deliver long-term satisfaction. Some in political circles would try their best to pander to the voting public’s fears for their own gains. Here is a telling fact - before the latest oil spill began on April 20th; the last “big” oil platform leak in the US was 40 years ago. Exxon Valdez incident, though related, cannot be brought into the equation.

So, while any such incident is regrettable to say the least, the figure not only speaks for itself but also indicates that safety standards have improved markedly. However, the figure is something the politicians risk even raising, let alone rely upon to justify offshore drilling and the list does include the President. The oil spill, will be contained and hopefully soon, but US energy policy is currently in a mess and all at sea. Actually it could be both and that in itself is no laughing matter.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo Courtesy © The White House website

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