by Guest Blogger Milton Clark, Ph.D.
The Gulf oil spill was inevitable. With a long history of safety violations, BP ignored standard practices and cut corners drilling the Macondo Project well a mile below the water’s surface. The Minerals Management Service of the Department of Interior, which simply rubber stamped oil company procedures, had inadequate oversight of the drilling operation. Once the blowout preventer failed, there were no reliable solutions to quickly contain and capture the oil from the damaged well head. BP and the Coast Guard did not have a sufficient plan to deal with such a massive oil spill. The oil industry and the federal government did not have the equipment–and still do not have sufficient equipment– to recover the floating oil to mitigate the ecological damage that will likely last decades.
To avoid future disasters, a moratorium on deep-ocean well drilling needs to remain in place until reliable solutions are found and implemented. Blowout preventers are not always reliable, especially in deep waters. In sensitive artic ocean areas, the U.S., Canada, Norway, and Greenland require wells to have a relief well drilled simultaneously, rather than after the fact. Significant resources must also be immediately available for future accidents, such as tanker size skimmers, that can quickly recover large quantities of oil and reduce the need for toxic dispersants.
However, having just technical fixes to prevent future oil spills misses the most important lesson to be learned. Continuing our heavy use of oil and other fossil fuels is the wrong pathway. High risk wells are being drilled because the world is running out of oil. Our society and national interests are dominated by our need for oil that is now being used at a rate faster than it is being found. As a limited non-renewable fossil fuel, in a decade or two, oil will become even more difficult to find and even more expensive. Vast amounts of oil money will continue to go to nations that do not always share our interests.
Any nation that continues to rely on imported oil, as the U.S. does for transportation, will have its national security constantly under threat. This has led James Woolsey, former CIA director, to state that the U.S. must remove oil as a strategic national issue.
He argues, as do many others, that we need to continue to increase mileage standards for automobiles; require cars to be made that can use other fuels besides gasoline; increase the manufacture and use of hybrid and fully electric cars; and convert trucks and buses to natural gas, which is abundant in our country.
Our nation must have a long-term energy policy that will move us away from our dependency on oil and other non-renewable fossil fuels. Climate change, due to fossil fuel usage, is already occurring and will continue to become more severe leading to agricultural impacts, more frequent floods, and intense hurricanes. There is a significant economic cost in waiting to reduce fossil fuel usage and delaying renewable energy sources. Over 80% of our energy comes from fossil fuels, yet the science shows that we will need to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% in just 40 years to have a livable planet for future generations. Unless there is a strong political and societal commitment, similar to the 10-year moon shot program implemented in the 1960s, there will be more oil spills, climate change, and a lower quality of life for all. We have an opportunity to learn from the Gulf spill and we need to learn quickly.
What is your reaction to Milton Clark’s ideas? Should we halt all deep well drilling until we come up with a definitive solution? What about the effects on the economy in the Gulf? As a society, do you think that we can make the commitment that it will take to reduce our dependency on oil and other non-renewable fossil fuels?
Milton Clark, Ph.D. is President of Clark Environmental Consulting, a firm specializing in human health and ecological risk assessment.