How Many Oil Rigs Will Explode Before We Realize the Future Lies with Clean Energy?

Failing oil rigs are like roaches — if you see one, it probably means that you have 1,000 more somewhere in your house.  So it is not surprise that another offshore oil rig exploded last week in the Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles off the Louisiana coast.

Thankfully, no lives were lost, but at least one was injured, according to early reports.  We were told that the rig was not ‘producing’ oil and gas at the time – but then again, the BP well that dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the gulf was not technically ‘producing’ either.

All of us can feel some relief that this incident was not as catastrophic as the BP disaster. But it shouldn’t take an oil apocalypse to get our attention. We are facing a continuing threat in the gulf from multiple points of potential peril.

There are currently more than 4,000 active oil and gas rigs in the gulf, along with 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells lurking in the hard rock. There are 1,000 decaying oil rigs and drilling structures.  We have been told time and time again by the oil industry, lobbyist, and pro-drilling lawmakers that offshore drilling is safe. They have told us that serious accidents cannot happen here in the United Sates because the technology is too advanced.

No one should be fooled anymore – accidents do, in fact, happen.  Sometimes these ‘accidents’ look more like acts of criminal negligence, like the $500,000 safety valve on the Deepwater Horizon that BP failed to install.

Needless to say we have a systemic problem. But powerful forces in Washington keep convincing themselves that these tragedies are isolated incidents. But the American people should not accept this political game.  Each one of those oil rigs is a potential disaster waiting to happen.

We need two things right now:

1. We need to get inspectors on those rigs NOW.

It is very clear that the industry and ‘drill-baby-drill’ fanatics cannot police themselves.  We need to know how many rigs are malfunctioning, leaking and needing repair.  BP should pay for this work, but the industry as a whole should be held financially liable.  While we are at it, why not employ residents of Gulf states affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster to conduct those inspections?

2 . We need to make bolder moves to get off oil in the long-term.

More inspections, regulations, and tightened safety procedures are only a band-aid for a much bigger problem: our country’s addiction to fossil fuels.  We are literally extracting death from the holes we’ve drilled in the gulf.  The future of the gulf, and our country’s energy supply, is not down those holes.

The energy, jobs, and prosperity of the gulf should come from the wind, sun, and earth’s own power.  A strong commitment to renewable energy can create 8,500 well-paying manufacturing jobs in Louisiana, and about 77,000 jobs in the entire gulf region, according to a study by the Renewable Energy Policy Project.

While this may be the latest failure of the offshore oil industry, it represents a failure of our national will.  It is a safe bet that we will continue to see more tragedies inflicted on an already devastated region.  We cannot conscionably pretend that there are no more faulty rigs in the gulf; we need to demand our lawmakers take action now!

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