Oil and gas industry doesn't really know how to clean up its messes

The New York Times recently ran an op-ed from NRDC President Frances Beinecke about the oil and gas industry's inability to handle the extreme risks associated with a spill from drilling in many places – let alone the wild oceans off the coast of Alaska, where the Obama administration recently gave Shell Oil preliminary approval to start drilling.

You don’t have to look far for evidence – from BP’s oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last year, to spills of natural gas fracking waste, and the recent oil spill in Montana’s Yellowstone River. That’s why it was so baffling to hear an Exxon-Mobil spokesperson tell the Associated Press: "Nobody would have guessed how hard it would be" to clean up the mess in Montana.

To the contrary, experts and environmentalists have been warning for decades that the health and safety risks of oil and gas production are too great, and that regulations must be strengthened to better protect public health and the environment. The industry says that it learns from its mistakes, but there is not much evidence for that claim.

When it comes to drilling onshore, we were encouraged by the recent statement from Energy Secretary Steven Chu about the need to "increase safe and responsible production of natural gas." It is essential that this statement is followed by a strong regulatory plan from the Obama administration and states. The Director of the Bureau of Land Management, Bob Abbey, said he is waiting to see the final report of the DOE Shale Gas Subcommittee before deciding on further action, but that the BLM is seriously entertaining new rules to improve the safety of fracking for federal oil and gas resources.

There is no doubt that BLM needs new rules, along with other federal agencies and the states. With the oil and gas industry evidently still in denial about the risks it creates and the need for new environmental, health, and safety practices, regulators need to protect our clean air and clean water from devastating spills and pollution.