Today is the first anniversary of BP’s infamous deep water well disaster, so it is appropriate to consider the impact of that oil spill.
On the positive side, the seafood in the gulf has been deemed safe to eat and certain oil companies have claimed that they are better able to handle a comparable disaster then they were before BP’s failed well dumped massive amounts of oil into the ocean.
On the minus side, the economic and environmental impact of the disaster seems to be continuing. For example, tourism is supposed to be suffering in the regions impacted by the spill-especially tourism related to fishing (even though, as noted above, the fish are supposed to be safe to eat). As another example, the mortality rate of baby dolphins has increased significantly since last year. While a causal link has not been established to the leak, it is not unreasonable to consider the possibility of a connection.
Interestingly enough, Congress has actually passed no new laws regulating deep water drilling. Not surprisingly, the Republicans are opposed to such laws as are some Democrats.
While I am in favor of keeping laws to a minimum, it seems clear that some changes in the regulation of deep water drilling are needed. At the very least, there should be laws specifying that companies that drill in deep water must be adequately prepared to handle disasters. Of course, oil companies have generally been somewhat lax in complying with existing laws (see, for example, the cookie cutter disaster plans that oil companies put on file) and it seems reasonable to expect they would be equally lax with any new laws.
Of course, there is also the question of whether we really need to engage in deep water drilling at all. While people will point to rising oil and gas prices as a sign that we need to “drill baby, drill”, these higher prices are not due to an actual shortage of oil. Also, allowing such drilling to continue will reduce the motivation to develop alternative energy sources that are not as damaging to the environment.
Overall, the main lesson of this disaster is that Congress did nothing.