Although lawmakers and business people in Louisiana are urging the Obama administration to reconsider the six-month moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, there are new concerns that the ban could be expanded, costing even more jobs and economic devastation.
Although drilling in shallow waters less than 500 feet was not included in the moratorium issued in May, MMS late last week rescinded a permit that had been issued just a day earlier to drill in 65 feet of water off the Gulf of Mexico. Other shallow water drilling permits were also rescinded.
For an industry already reeling from a far-reaching moratorium on deepwater drilling that will shut down many rigs that have perfect safety records, these latest sings of expanding the ban or applying it inconsistently are troubling. They suggest that rather than having a clear plan for reviewing rig safety so that operations can resume in a timely fashion, the administration is simply reacting to events without regard for the thousands of people in Texas, Louisiana and other Gulf states who earn a living directly in the oil industry, or in a field – such as manufacturing or agriculture – that must utilize oil or natural gas to survive.
As this recent PBS NewsHour segment noted, 17% of all jobs in Louisiana are related to the oil industry. PBS offered an aerial view of all of the oil and gas operations in the Gulf, which it described as a “city on the water.” The view underscores the extent to which oil is the foundation of local Gulf economies and also serves as a reminder that the vast majority of rigs operate safely.
As one oil executive quoted in the story noted, “We don’t want to see an entire industry killed off as a knee jerk reaction.”
In the wake of April’s tragic accident, we can all agree on the need to improve drilling safety, investigate the cause of the explosion in April and to take steps to ensure that this never happens again. But as we work toward that goal, we also have to separate the really productive actions from those “knee jerk” responses that will only create more unnecessary disruption.