Mitrakos: Deep sea oil drilling: Put a cap on spilling

Vasiliki Mitrakos

On the one year anniversary of BP’s oil spill, three Republican senators proposed a bill that would open the east coast to offshore drilling. While they acknowledged the irony of the proposal and pointed out that the bill called specifically for natural gas drilling, the proposition brings attention to the controversial efforts to increase deep sea oil pumping. But if political supporters of offshore drilling want to gain public support they must also encourage the environmental regulations. Additionally, regulators should focus on implementing greater penalties and delegating greater responsibility of clean up to the oil company after the spill has been controlled. Regulatory efforts have taken root, and following Obama’s hiatus on offshore developments, major oil companies have recently revamped their efforts to set up deep sea drilling stations under tighter government regulations. Companies that now seek to drill must first demonstrate their capability to deal with oil spills, particularly in deep water, and for the most part they have been compliant.

Support for offshore drilling is still prevalent in Congress and complements the ongoing effort to find native energy sources, particularly new oil reserves. On Tuesday, Northwestern hosted Alex Epstein from the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights to give a speech about the use of oil. In a lecture titled Vitamin “O”: Our Healthy “Addiction” to Oil, Esptein says that oil has had positive impacts on daily life because it fuels some of the most important systems we rely on, like transportation and mechanized farming. He also suggested that cutting back on oil consumption now, with respect to environmental concerns, could hinder development in underdeveloped countries and have a negative impact on energy consumption since comparable energy alternatives are limited. But even like-minded supporters of increased drilling cannot deny that preventative measures and environmental regulations could actually boost the image of offshore drilling as safe and viable. While some members of Congress argued that implementing drilling delays and new regulations could harm local economies that depend on the industry, another oil spill that is not effectively controlled would tarnish public approval for more offshore drilling.

Beyond preventative regulations on oil spills, the government should also place greater liability for environmental safety on the oil company responsible for the damage. Last year’s oil spill dumped about 5 million barrels of oil, killed 11 oil rig workers and more than 6,000 marine animals died from oil pollution. It took roughly six months to control and more than a year later, natural habitats and local businesses are still suffering. Long-term effects from oil and cleaning chemicals, which have been found over 3,000 feet deep, have not yet come to the surface. Yet BP continues to lobby the government against regulations that would instill greater penalties for the company. But BP is not the only delinquent company in mind. Exxon Mobil, one of today’s leading oil companies, experienced one of the most devastating oil spills in Alaska in 1989. More than 20 years later, the environmental damages of that spill are still present. If these companies can get government approval to drill in potentially dangerous areas, the government should hold them accountable for environmental consequences resulting from an oil spill.

The efforts for offshore drilling have rebounded and public support for American sources of oil is still present, but it is imperative to consider the environmental effects that may occur if proper regulations and planning are not enforced. While a portion of the public criticized the government regulations on cleaning up as counterproductive during last year’s oil spill, the new regulations will help avoid another BP crisis. Bottom line, if oil companies and supporters want public and political approval they have to embrace tighter and more efficient regulations.

Vasiliki Mitrakos is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]