Conservative Political Commentary

...usually with an attempt at historical and economic context

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

After the Big Spill

Workers using high-pressure, hot-water washing...Image via Wikipedia

Leftist environmentalists have been given a valuable gift in their struggle to stop offshore oil drilling: The BP-TransOcean oil spill. The timing is fortuitous for them, soon after President Obama’s proposal to expand offshore oil exploration. The oil spill is disastrous and tragic. People have died, businesses are threatened with extinction, and BP itself, on the hook for great expense, now with government’s “boot on its neck,” possibly faces its own end.

Llewellyn Rockwell at Mises Institute writes:

It is not as if BP profits by oil leaks, or that anyone reveled in the chance to dump its precious oil all over the ocean. BP gains nothing from this. Its own CEO has worked for years to try to prevent precisely this kind of accident from occurring, and done so not out of the desire to comply with regulations, but just because it is good business practice.

In contrast to those who are weeping, we might ask who is happy about the disaster:

1. the environmentalists, with their fear mongering and hatred of modern life, and
2. the government, which treats every capitalist producer as a bird to be plucked. [1]


As unfortunate as this accident is, it is not a sufficient reason to give up on offshore drilling, or the significant expansion of offshore drilling. That would be like giving up automobiles because of the Toyota acceleration problem, or giving up airliners because of a major crash. The Exxon Valdez oil spill did not result in a ban on oil tankers.

Among those backing continued offshore oil drilling and production are Texas Governor Rick Perry and Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson:


Speaking at a jobs summit in Washington, D.C., Perry repeatedly suggested that the spill was "an act of God." He said he hoped the massive spill would not lead to a "knee jerk" reaction to stop new or existing offshore drilling….
Patterson, who like Perry, has a long history of touting the safety of offshore drilling, said the accident was isolated and had not changed his views.

“Keep in mind that the last spill of this magnitude was in 1979, and that's 31 years ago,” said Patterson, whose office is responsible for oil spill cleanups in Texas. Patterson was referring to a June 1979 oil platform blowout that spewed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, causing extensive damage along the Texas coast. [2]
CNS News reported that “Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said halting plans for offshore drilling because of the spill would be like stopping the space exploration program because of the 1986 Challenger explosion.” [3]

When one considers the large amount of offshore oil activity, and the rarity of serious accidents, this incident is not sufficient to justify stopping or refusing to allow additional offshore drilling and production.

CNS News carried an AP article on April 29 reporting that “[White House Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs and other officials said President Barack Obama remains committed to plans to expand offshore drilling to areas that are now off limits….” [4]

But this plan appears to be on hold as the president awaits a report from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar:


“The president was specific in ordering Secretary Salazar to look at all the possible aspects of what could and did go wrong in this instance, to report back to him in that 30-day period,” Gibbs said. “This is an administration that is going to take whatever information it gets from that and have it dictate our decision in going forward.” [5]


In addition to the concerns over the loss of life and economic damage, environmental cleanup is going to be costly and time-consuming. But the importance of pressing ahead with offshore oil activity overrides concerns about the environment, as serious as they may be. The environment will recover, as it did after other spills. The risk of further spills of this type in the near future is very low. Offshore oil production is indispensable. There are hundreds of offshore oil rigs and thousands of miles of pipelines, and tens of thousands of workers, who normally operate effectively and safely.

Rockwell emphasizes their importance over the “ecosystem”:


The abstraction called the “ecosystem” — which never seems to include mankind or civilization — has done far less for us than the oil industry, and the factories, planes, trains, and automobiles it fuels. The greatest tragedy here belongs to BP and its subsidiaries, and the private enterprises affected by the losses that no one intended. [5]


The accident needs to be investigated and the spill cleaned up. BP must be held to account for the damage. Democrats want to increase the environmental cleanup liability limit from $75 million to $10 billion. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he supports the proposal, but downplays its chances for Senate approval. [6] While BP says they will pay all appropriate damages, and they should, the proposed bill smacks of an ex post facto law. The government should have changed the limit before, if it was too low. It seems like political manipulation to try to change it now. If there are problems with BP’s compensation for damage, deal with them as they arise. They’re already likely to go out of business as a result of this spill.

[1] Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., “Feel Sorry for BP?” Ludwig von Mises Institute.

[2]Aman Batheja and Maria Recio, “Perry backs offshore drilling, says spill may be act of God,” Star-Telegram.com.

[3] Fred Lucas, “After Oil Spill, Obama Uncertain on Offshore Drilling Policy,” CNS News.


[4] Matthew Daly, Associated Press, “White House: Oil Spill Could Affect Drilling Plan,” at CNS News.


[5] Lucas, see [3].

[6] Meredith Shiner, “Harry Reid backs BP liability bill,” Politico.


Photo illustrates workers using high pressure hot water washing to clean an oiled shoreline after Exxon Valdez oil spill.
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