Gulf Spill: America's Chernobyl?
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As the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe worsens by the minute, and as BP desperately tries to tame an underwater gusher, one thing is overwhelmingly clear:
The intellectual foundation of the offshore-drilling enterprise -- that oil companies know how to handle ever-deeper drilling "horizons" -- is false. BP doesn't know what it is doing -- and neither do any of the other oil companies. Our technology for dealing with oil spills turns out to be almost useless -- once you dump millions of gallons of oil in the ocean, you really can't do much to stop the damage. Prevention, not rapid response, is the key.
Still, after every disaster, the oil industry promises that it could never happen again.
Let's learn the right lesson: Oil and water don't mix. A major explosion on land is a tragedy, but it's not a region-wide catastrophe on the scale we see here. Oddly enough, Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the more thoughtful offshore drilling advocates, seems tone deaf on this one. Senator Graham is arguing that after the Challenger disaster America went back into space, so after Deepwater Horizon we should keep opening up new areas to oil drilling.
That analogy is simply wrong. Imagine that the Challenger tragedy, in addition to causing the deaths of astronauts, had put at risk the economic base of a significant part of the United States. Suppose thousands of businesses were ruined, and hundreds of thousands of workers lost their livelihoods. Would we have continued launching Space Shuttles?
I don't think so. It's time to start phasing out offshore oil production now, as a first step to making America genuinely independent of oil.
Carl Pope is the Sierra Club's chairman.