Guest column – Learning from the oil spill

By Stewart Cohen

It is hard to not react to the current catastrophe in the Gulf with a desire to reject all future offshore oil drilling. However, I believe that we have learned two critical things from this event that will enable us to proceed more capably in the future.

The first is that there is plenty of oil if we look for it. The second is that the real cost of an accident like this is almost incomprehensible and therefore one must never happen again. It is not enough to point out how little these accidents have happened; there have been others and we simply cannot allow more. Just as the Exxon-Valdez grounding forced the move to double hulled tankers (and we still haven’t finished cleaning up that mess), it would seem that this fiasco points to several options that can ensure our safety.

I like the fact that the Mineral Management Service is now being broken up to separate regulation and inspection from contracts and leases. It is a good first step. However, we also need to implement and enforce very strict standards for the production, operation, retirement, replacement or recertification of all critical operating parts involved in the drilling and extraction process. It is already clear that shortcuts were taken by BP in operations that contributed to the sequence of events in this disaster. Given that the ultimate solution for the leak is completing a relief well (which will take a total of three months to finish), I would propose the following idea: All offshore drilling from now on will include the simultaneous construction of primary and secondary wells into each oil source. Current offshore wells should be supplemented with secondary relief sites to offer the immediate potential to “relieve” any accident.

These kinds of fail-safes may actually offer up more security than statistics do and will indeed cost boatloads of money. The oil profits are there to support this, but let’s face it — this will raise the price of oil extraction and gas at the pump. The benefits of this will be true security about the safety of oil extraction as well as stepping up the drive to increase fuel efficiency and the availability of non-combustive energy sources, which will ultimately improve our energy independence and environment.

This is not a political or partisan issue; these are things we as Americans need to urge our government to do for us to keep us safe here at home.

Stewart Cohen lives in Williston.