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the deans list

b y b o b d e ans

BP TAUGHT US some TOUGH LESSONS The independent commission President Obama created to examine the spill called on oil and gas companies to set up since the BP blowout killed 11 workers, dumped 170 million gal- a fully independent safety institute, just as the nuclear power lons of toxic crude oil into the Gulf industry did after the Three Mile Island accident. Instead, of Mexico, and threw tens of thou- the industry has established the Center for Offshore Safety, which operates under the auspices of the American Petrosands of watermen out of work. We watched in horror as crude leum Institute, the industry’s lobbying association. Shouldn’t oil migrated through fertile waters the industry set up a safety institute whose single mission in plumes the size of Manhattan, is to develop a culture that puts safety first? Congress has been the real laggard. It has done nothing poisoning habitat for tuna, turtles, dolphins, and whales. It settled like a deadly carpet over to make offshore drilling any safer today than it was on coral reefs and the ocean floor. It coated more than 1,000 the day of the BP blowout. Congress needs to enshrine miles of coastline, damaging wetlands, estuaries, and tidal the president’s administrative changes into federal law, so flats. The region, and the people who live and work there, they can’t be reversed with the stroke of a pen by a future administration. And it needs to raise the $75 million liability have yet to fully recover. We’ve seen some changes since then. The Obama admin- limit for spill damages, which is absurdly low. BP—which has laid out more istration reorganized than $30 billion, and the Department of the We can’t afford a BP-like disaster counting, in cleanInterior’s widely critiin Arctic seas choked with ice eight up and settlement cized Mineral Manmonths of the year and where gale-force costs—opted to go agement Service, beyond what the law breaking it up into winds and 20-foot waves make a spill required. Other comthe Bureau of Ocean cleanup impossible panies might not. Energy Management, And, as a nation, to oversee oil and gas leases in federal waters, and the Bureau of Safety and En- we need to stop exposing more and more of our oceans vironmental Enforcement, to protect workers, waters, and to the risks of offshore fossil fuel production. We should wildlife. In October 2012, the BSEE put in place new rules start by putting our Arctic waters off-limits to drilling. We aimed at improving the reliability of critical safety equip- can’t afford a BP-like disaster in seas that are choked with ment and the design and integrity of offshore wells. The ice eight months of the year and where gale-force winds rules require third-party inspections of offshore drilling rigs, and 20-foot waves make exploration hazardous and spill production platforms, and related equipment—replacing cleanup impossible. Finally, we must all try to reduce our reliance on oil the old (and ridiculous) practice of inspections by owners. Recently, the BSEE chose Texas A&M to host a new and gas. After all, it is our demand for oil that’s driving Ocean Energy Safety Institute. Its mission is to draw on the these companies to drill in ever deeper and more perilous best industry, academic, and government minds to reduce waters. Our country needs to invest in efficiency so we can the risks of this inherently dangerous business. The bureau do more with less. And we need to promote wind, solar, also put in place a whistle-blower program to enable offshore and other forms of renewable energy so we can power our economy in a cleaner, safer, more sustainable way. workers to anonymously report near misses. But the bureau still needs to strengthen standards for the design and operation of so-called blowout preventers; Bob Deans, NRDC’s associate director of communications, is a require environmental impact statements for sites with veteran newspaper reporter and a former president of the White complex geology or in extremely deep water; and enhance House Correspondents’ Association. His most recent book is Reckless: the role of science in decisions about offshore drilling. The Political Assault on the American Environment.

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S P RIN G 2 0 1 4

illustration by bruce morser

April marks four years

OnEarth Spring 2014  

Hog Wild, by Ted Genoways

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