Learning the Real Cost of "Cheap" Energy

Yesterday another oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico caught fire. Thankfully, all workers were rescued without any reports of serious injuries and Coast Guard officials contradicted earlier reports that oil had been found in the waters near the platform.

Many facts surrounding this fire on the Mariner Energy platform still remain unknown. However, we do know that federal records reveal that there have been at least four accidents at this platform in the past ten years. And we know that this platform was operating in shallow water, considered less than 500 feet deep, and therefore was not covered by the current Obama moratorium. 

The fire raises questions about the Administration’s reassurances that most drilling remains safe, outside of the deepwater rigs with their special drilling and response capacity challenges. As Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and a member of the presidential commission exploring the Gulf oil disaster, stated, “What it [the Mariner Energy fire] does bring to light is that there are risks with oil and gas production … that are associated with activities that go beyond deepwater drilling.” Offshore drilling is – and will remain – a risky business, no matter the drilling depth.

Recently, NRDC sat down with famed oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle to discuss the Gulf ecosystem and the oil disaster. She shared her thoughts on the Gulf – a “magical place” where she first learned to dive – and noted that the one of the lessons learned from the disaster there is the real cost of what we think of as “cheap” energy. Our oceans are highly valuable economic resources that environmental degradation adversely affects. Fossil fuels contribute to a host of ocean problems – including ocean acidification. We need to act now to become less dependent on oil and increase our supply of renewable energy while creating jobs and protecting our valuable ocean resources.

The need to pass strong legislation setting appropriate controls on the industry is needed now more than ever. On July 30, the House passed the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2010 aimed at preventing another Gulf oil tragedy, including strong new safety standards for offshore drilling, and ensuring polluters pay the full cost of damages resulting from oil spills. We need a Senate companion bill to help prevent the dangers from offshore drilling and provide stronger regulation and a move toward cleaner energy.