The Department of the Interior (DOI)’s five-year offshore oil-drilling plan, announced today, is bad news for the environment and oil workers. Environmentalists and workplace safety advocates who reasonably anticipated regulatory reform of the oil industry in advance of any new offshore oil-drilling policy are deeply disappointed. According to the Obama administration, new areas in the Gulf of Mexico will be explored and drilled, as will the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the Arctic Ocean and the Cook Inlet off the coast of Alaska.
This plan was made in the absence of new safety rules designed to protect workers and the environment. We haven’t updated offshore drilling laws since 1978 – well before we had a deepwater or robust arctic drilling industry. We already know what happens when the oil industry is inadequately regulated. For 87 days in 2010, the nation watched helplessly as millions of barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico after an explosion rocked the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and killed 11 workers. Taxpayers remain responsible for major spills, because current law caps spill liability for oil companies at $75 million.
It was the Bush administration that concluded in 2007 that opening up all offshore areas to new drilling would have an “insignificant” impact on lowering gasoline prices and reducing imports. So we know that today’s action won’t do a thing to reduce pain at the pump. However, Public Citizen outlined several market reforms in testimony last week that would rein in speculators and actually reduce gasoline prices.
With DOI’s announcement, it is clear that the administration is willing to override the serious safety concerns raised by its own oil spill commission formed in response to the BP oil disaster. It is unconscionable that new offshore oil drilling will be undertaken without any congressional reform of drilling rules and safety regulation. Congress should enact reform now. Today’s move will only raise the liability exposure for drillers and, ultimately, the financial obligation that always falls to taxpayers.