Monday, June 07, 2010

Ban and Regulate

So it seems like BP has started to get the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf under control.

The natural, emotional, and ultimately irrational response to this oil spill is to ban off-shore drilling or at least, increase the regulations. Surely, we have to do something to prevent further disasters, right?

At first blush this sounds reasonable, but let's think through the consequences before reacting self-destructively. Each drop of oil that isn't drilled in America will have to be imported on an oil tanker. The chance of a tanker spilling is 10 times higher than the odds of a deepwater well failing. So while the BP disaster is fresh on our minds, it's still better than the combined ten tanker disasters we haven't yet suffered when we ban or restrict off-shore drilling.

The real problem with capping this well is that it's five-thousand feet below sea level, where the extreme pressure, temperature, and darkness create near-impossible conditions to attempt repairs. At two-to-three-hundred feet, this catastrophe would have been contained quickly, as human divers descended to that depth with repair equipment designed to much lower tolerances. But 85% of the coastline at that depth is protected by...environmental legislation! Believe me, BP would much rather build cheaper and safer oil rigs off the coastline, or in Alaska, than trying to drill 5000 ft below sea level, but our restrictions have forced them to find oil in harder-to-reach places. Along with legal resistance to building nuclear plants and natural gas pipelines, our insatiable demand for energy incents oil companies to take huge risks. If you were horrified by the BP oil spill, just wait and see what happens in the next few decades, as corporations expand their extreme energy operations.

The time when we could be picky about how we get our energy has already past. As a society, we must choose quickly whether we are going to drastically reduce our energy consumption, or drastically expand the ways in which we produce it. Since I doubt Americans would welcome an era of austerity accompanying forced energy conservation, we need to reduce regulations on energy production to save our environment, not expand them! More nuclear energy, more natural gas drilling, and expanded oil exploration in coastal areas will do more to prevent disasters like the Gulf spill than any legislation.

It's not as if additional regulations would have prevented the BP oil spill anyway. They used cheap parts, failed to acquire licenses, and then bribed the regulators with drugs and sex. Additional legal restrictions are just additional opportunities for corruption, and will not protect anyone but the lawmakers and lobbyists who pick at the bloated corpse of our government.

Sometime before 2050, solar power is going to become cheaper than oil, and I look forward to that time as much as any greenie (definitely more than the "environmentalists" trying to sabotage the solar panels in Mojave project.) But until that point, we need to do more to produce energy in the cheapest, safest way possible, and not cave to political, pseudo-environmental NIMBY bullshit. Short-term thinking and reactionary regulation have failed us before, let's not go down that same road again.


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