The Failure Of Public Policy In The Gulf Crisis – When all the facts surrounding the causes of the Gulf crisis are finally known, there will be lots of blame to spread around. Certainly BP will shoulder the lion’s share, perhaps deservedly. Did they cut corners in a bid to save time and a few million dollars? Were they using technology that was proven in shallow water but not well tested in the mile-deep waters in which they were drilling?
We likely will come to know much about the immediate causes of this disaster and BP and the entire industry will learn plenty about how to do it better in the future. Likely, regulations for drilling in deep water will be examined and tightened and the world will move on to worry about something else. But, I suspect, the deeper, underlying causes that contributed to this disaster will go unnoticed.
In my view, a good portion of the blame lies at the feet of policy makers in Washington who completely failed to create a coherent national energy policy that would both ensure a secure supply and minimize risk to the environment. An incredible supply of oil is available in the shallow waters off all three coasts of America; caving in to the pressures of NIMBYism, Washington severly restricted drilling in these waters. The risk of spills is greatly reduced in shallow water where technologies have been proven and if a blowout occurs it can more easily be fixed. By forcing oil companies to drill in deep water for oil the country sorely needs, Washington created a scenario that sooner or later would come back to bite them.
While there is lots of rhetoric about a “green energy policy” in Washington, this kind of future is decades away. True renewables (wind, solar, geothermal) today account for about 3% of the global energy supply. We’ll need hydrocarbons for many decades while we move toward a future dominated by renewables. So, how do we get there? It appears Washington doesn’t have a clue. Certainly the 6 month moratorium on drilling in the Gulf won’t help. And those politicians calling for an end to the import of oil from Canada’s oil sands are only adding to the mounting supply problem. Unless Americans want to go back to the horse and buggy era, these guys had better give their heads a shake and come up with a real plan.
Unfortunately, Canadian policians are equally reactive, without a long term plan for Canada’s energy needs. On June 1 the House passed (with 274 votes from all parties) a motion by Alberta MP Linda Duncan calling for a review of all laws and regulations around uncoventional energy development, including oil sands, shale gas and deepwater oil and gas drilling. It’s amazing how quickly they can act when they feel threatened, but how slow they have been to consider a comprehensive energy strategy for Canada.
The one big difference between the oil companies and politicians is in their approach to long term planning; to the oil companies long term plans for large projects can often span decades, costing billions of dollars and causing them to plan far down the road; to politicians long term planning is often trying to anticipate tomorrow’s newspaper headlines.
When the blame is handed out for the events in the Gulf, the policians should be front and centre.