Deepwater Horizon disaster is a rebuke to Obama

"Oil From Spill Is Reported to Have Reached the Coast” (Robertson, Robbins, NYTimes, 4/30/10):

Coast Guard officials were investigating reports on Friday that crude oil leaking from a well beneath the Gulf of Mexico had washed ashore, threatening wildlife in fragile marshes and islands along the Gulf Coast. As the vast and growing oil slick spread across the Gulf and approached shore, fishermen in coastal towns feared for their businesses and the White House stepped up its response to the worsening situation.

As the extent of the Deepwater Horizon spill disaster grows hour by hour, day by day, and likely week by week, Barack Obama’s decision to open new areas off the Atlantic Coast to offshore oil exploration looks worse and worse.

First, and perhaps least importantly, if the widely held conclusion is true that the decision was designed to sweeten the political climate for a climate change bill deal, that calculation may have blown up in the White House’s face with the looming demise of the Kerry bill. If so, we’ll have oil rigs off Cape Hatteras because that kept Lindsay Graham happy for a few weeks in the spring of 2010.

But it gets worse: it turns out Obama had come to believe (or cross his fingers about) claims about offshore oil rig safety that John McCain made in 2008:

I don’t agree with the notion that we shouldn’t do anything. It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore.

…when in fact 124 oil rigs spilled a total of over 700,000 gallons of oil — with six spilling 42,000 or more gallons each, and one spilling the 100,000 or more gallons considered to be a major spill. (Both links via ThinkProgress.) Watch the video; the characteristic self-assurance with which Obama delivered his mistaken understandings should give even his warmest supporters pause.

Now some are saying Obama has “listened” by ordering a review of offshore oil rig safety. And of course he has. But the other way of looking at that is that it was just about the very least he could do. Even a President Palin would have gone to the Rose Garden and said “I’m against oil spills” too — so let’s get the best technology to get all that oil to the fuel pump instead of spilling it on birds, beaches, and fishing grounds.

Where I differ with ‘drill, baby, drillers’ like Palin — and now, sadly, Obama — is that I think the best way to prevent spilling Atlantic shelf oil is not to pump it out of the ground in the first place.

I’ll be interested to see whether Salazar gives any thought to that option in the report Obama wants. I’ll also be interested whether any expensive precautions he recommends get scotched down the road by the oil companies. They’ve lobbied against so-called “acoustic switches” before — technology that might have been a last-ditch option for the crew escaping the doomed “Deepwater Horizon.” But even such a switch presumably wouldn’t work if the the breakpoint is below the shutoff valve it controls.

The fact is that when you open offshore areas to oil exploration, oil spill disasters are the non-negligible risk you take. It’s more than a bit disturbing Obama took such a weighty step with such a poor understanding of that.

[crossposted from]=====

MORE ON THE DEEPWATER HORIZON SPILL: What the Spill Means for Offshore Drilling, NYTimes debate; BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (Murley, PlanetForward) - links to Transocean/BP, EPA, and White House press briefing; digby ("Hullabaloo") on the disastrous politics of the Atlantic offshore oil drilling openings.
EDIT, 5/20: first blockquote and cite rearranged to try to fix formatting.

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