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Moratorium on Drilling


Part of the government’s temporary patch to the gulf oil situation is a moratorium on further offshore drilling. The obvious thought is that it’s a good idea, to protect against doing further ecological damage to the gulf. After all, experts are already conjecturing that initial estimates of the oil were only half that really leaked into the gulf. But as time goes on, other factors come to play which revives the age old question on what truly drives the world – politics or economics? If the moratorium continues, it’s not just oil companies that face consequences. BP isn’t the only company in those waters and rather than continuing to lose money, many of the rigs are already leaving the gulf. As the rigs withdraw, naturally, so does the support dollars that employ shore businesses. All of which begs the question, do our economic needs for employment, supply purchasing and oil demand outweigh the need for a moratorium?

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Balancing Act? by Occams

All of which begs the question, do our economic needs for employment, supply purchasing and oil demand outweigh the need for a moratorium?

Good question. I think one cannot outweigh the other until the same people are paying the costs and receiving the benefits from both drilling and not drilling. The costs of environmental damage are borne by all who live in the area. Some of those people (oil industry workers) benefit from the economic benefits from a nearby oil industry, and some lose from the damage (fishing and tourism industry workers and investors).

So, it seems to me that moneyy has to flow between the winners and losers before this balancing act can be assessed.

Strangely, in good times this would mean that the fishing and tourist industries should help the oil industry to take better precautions to avoid spills. In bad times, like now, it means that the oil industry has to compensate fishing and tourism in the area.

The best way to avoid spills is to not allow any drilling. This has been done in some parts of the world when the economic dangers are very clear, such as in shallow exotic coral reef waters which attract many visitors. Now we have to decide if rigs in very deep coastal waters with unknown marine ecology are in the same category. I think that they are if their spills can move into pristine shallow coastal waters that are highly valued national assets.

As many political actions often are, the moratorium on offshore drilling is as close to the dictionary definition of a “kneejerk reaction” as might possibly be. It gives quick, temporary satisfaction to a broad base, but doesn’t solve the whole problem; and as mentioned, probably will create other problems just as serious as time goes on. That being said, there are many complex problems leading up this situation, and perhaps putting the brakes on everything until there is time to gain control over the real causes is the only means of mitigating these problems in the long run.

One problem I’m hearing more of lately is the fact that the increase in Minerals Management Service inspectors hasn’t nearly kept pace with the increase in offshore drilling projects since 1985. (Offshore drilling projects increased by 1000% whereas the number of inspectors increased by 13%.)

Sometimes I wonder if these sorts of disasters are related to just plain old being human. We all have the tendency to become complacent creatures when things go fairly well for a certain amount of time. Even when many safeguards are designed into any system from its initial startup, over time we tend to trend towards becoming more and more lax until some disaster happens to “wake us up” again and re-pick up our diligence. (For a little while, anyway.)

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