Friday, May 7, 2010

Throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Due to my employment with a large oil & gas company (no, NOT BP) I've been a little quiet regarding the recent rig explosion/oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. There are a couple of reasons for this: One, all I've seen so far is speculation as to why this happened, and I see no reason to speculate on my future career based on anything other than factual, sober analysis. Two, I really don't have much new to offer to the debate that's out there. Whatever I would say would be accepted by those who like big oil (ConservaBloggers) and instantly discarded by those who don't (the InterLeft).

With yesterday's announcement by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that he's halting all offshore permitting and slowing down an already approved Shell/Alaska project I think the time is here to say something about this so I ask my dozen (or so) regular readers to bear with me.

First. The most important factor in all of this is that eleven rig workers died in the original explosion. Due to the political nature of the fallout I feel that this has been buried under a wave of self-important reporting and blog-posting by adherents of green energy. That's eleven humans, almost equal to the 13 fatalities in the Gulf over the past six years. In terms of lives lost then, this is one of the worst failures Gulf of Mexico drilling has seen in some time. Ignoring political posturing, our prayers, thoughts and support should go out to the families of those lost.

Second. Beyond Rick Perry's "act of God" and Bill White's speculative causal analysis, there's fertile ground to plow about how and why this happened, what can be done to stop it, and the best road ahead. One thing is for sure, I'm certain that Mr. Salazar's "cut off the head to cure a sinus infection" approach isn't the smartest thing to do. If anything I lean closer to the written recommendations of energy experts and many politicians (including Bill White and Rick Perry). There are fairly strict regulations already in place, enforcing them would be a first good step.

Last. This, is not oversight. For years the Federal Government has talked out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to dealing with oil companies. Republicans have turned a blind eye to some industry excesses and then feigned outrage when a few companies got caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Democrats have spent the last two decades vilifying the industry all while happily accepting more taxes and fees from them than any other business sector. The end result of this institutional dishonesty is a National energy debate that's juvenile, short-sighted and useless. I've seen un-hinged bloggers honestly say that "no one has ever been killed building a solar panel" without understanding the dangerous conditions in which silicone miners work daily. Liberal blowhard Ed Schultz was not laughed off the air when he suggested that all offshore drilling should be abandoned, neither was Conservative blabber Rush Limbaugh tarred and feathered for his foolish suggestion that a clean up was not necessary. There's a stunning lack of education in this country about the true cost of energy, and what it takes to sustain a country's power needs.

How else do you explain people pushing for increased use of electric cars, but refusing to consider clean coal technology to power the energy grids that drive said cars? Republicans fight against trains and other forms us mass transit without thinking, while Democrats push their use while courting votes from the automobile unions. Then we have nuclear power, touted as a panacea it can never become or wrongly vilified for sins it never committed. Almost nowhere in our National debate is there enough remaining oxygen for measured, reasonable discussion or legislation. There are too many political axes to grind, too many special interests to appease.

The end result of this nonsense is that America is rapidly losing what was once it's greatest competitive advantage, great stores of natural resources. In the KHOU article linked to above are the following sobering facts: American oil production is decreasing while demand has increased, currently we are importing 65% of our oil. What that means is that a majority of our energy and fuel supply is provided at the whim of a foreign power. If you want to view something that is unsustainable that is the very definition.

I'm not going to end this post with some grand plan for the future of energy in America that makes it sound like I've got all the answers. The fact is I don't. I'd like to see tighter enforcement of the existing rules going forward and for the MMS to take the "management" part more seriously, and I'd like to see America's energy independence restored but, as an accountant, the "how" this gets accomplished is above my pay grade. One thing I do know: If we keep letting the conversation be dominated by faulty logic, pundits shooting for ratings and those on the fringes with anger management issues we're going to soon be looking down the barrel of an economic and societal disaster.

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