House Committee Promotes More Offshore Drilling with Less Oversight

This Congress has not passed a single piece of legislation to make offshore drilling safer in the wake of the BP oil disaster. Instead, nearly one year after the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the House Natural Resources Committee pushed forward three bills to expand offshore drilling and reduce safeguards.

These bills would allow big oil companies to sidestep proper environmental analysis, rush permits and drill virtually anywhere off the U.S. coastline.

Have we learned nothing from the largest peacetime oil spill in history? Eleven men died in that disaster. More than 170 million gallons of Louisiana crude spewed into the water, and 1,053 miles of shoreline got oiled.

The impacts have been devastating. Gulf Coast fishermen lost $62 million in dockside sales because of the spill, while tourist businesses lost $1.5 billion in earnings. Oil remains in marshes and underwater plumes, and it will take years to determine the ecological damage.

Despite the enormous toll that can come from drilling, Representative Doc Hasting (R-WA) and his colleagues want to make it easier for companies to drill more with less oversight.

I served on the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. After an exhaustive review of the evidence, we concluded that the root cause of the spill was systemic failure in industry management and government oversight.

Quick fixes in one company or one agency would not be enough to make offshore drilling safe. Instead, we laid out the comprehensive steps the oil industry, the government, and Congress would need to take to prevent another massive spill.

The three bills voted on yesterday disregard the commission’s safety recommendations. They would take us backward—making offshore drilling even more risky than it was before the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

Turning back the clock on offshore drilling will do little to relieve America’s oil addiction.

According to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, drilling in America’s previously closed ocean areas “would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production…before 2030.” Even then, “because oil prices are determined on the international market …any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.”

The U.S. cannot drill its way out of oil dependence. We can, however, turn to a host of clean energy solutions that could cut our oil imports almost in half in just 14 years. We don’t have to wait for technological breakthroughs to get started. Things like cleaner cars, more transportation options, high speed rail, and sustainable, homegrown fuels already exist.

These solutions will save Americans money and relieve our oil addiction. And they will achieve these goals without putting oil rig workers, coastal communities, and marine life at risk.