Staunch opponents of the president’s plan — who were numerous — didn’t need another reason to disapprove of drilling for more natural gas and oil in the Atlantic.
Nevertheless, they received one last week when an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, causing a nasty oil spill that now endangers several coastal areas, including parts of Alabama. Eleven workers are still missing.
Regardless of one’s stance on offshore drilling, the loss of life and environmental concerns from the rig explosion can’t be over-emphasized. It’s a serious, life-and-death issue.
But neither that tragic event nor the mounting concerns about the oil spill’s trajectory should change opinions about the president’s March decision.
Today, the overriding matters are on the Gulf Coast, where workers’ families are grieving for loved ones still missing at sea and scientists tracking the spill are debating how best to handle it.
For Alabama, the trepidation is real — an unfortunate example of a national story coming home to our state. The Mobile Press-Register reported that satellite images last Sunday showed part of the spill was once within 45 miles of Dauphin Island. Since then, changes in currents and coastal winds have pushed the spill away from the state’s coastline, though fear of oil-stained Alabama beaches remains strong.
Regardless of which Southern states the spill most affects — Wednesday it sat 20 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River — the danger to the Gulf’s environment is of utmost importance. The coastlines of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are dotted with fragile environments and wildlife that we must protect.
Officials estimate that 42,000 barrels of crude oil have been released each day since the explosion occurred. It’s imperative that federal officials and representatives of British Petroleum are able to shut off the flow of undersea oil from the blown well.
What’s more, federal agencies and state officials along the Gulf Coast must use all available resources to combat the spill — now and if it reaches land. The decision to ignite the spill and burn away as much oil as possible seems a worthy call.
What isn’t needed is for critics of Obama’s Virginia decision to call for a halt to such efforts. As this page discussed last month, the president’s choice to allow more drilling in the Atlantic seems a worthy compromise to help bridge the gap between America’s use of foreign oil and the unquestioned and urgent need to develop alternative fuel sources.
The tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico does not weaken that compromise.
What the tragedy does show is that heightened safety measures are needed for rigs that operate in U.S. waters. An Orlando Sentinel report Tuesday highlighted that U.S. oilfield work isn’t as dangerous as commercial fishing or coal mining, based on fatality statistics from the federal government.
Yet, it is dangerous — undoubtedly. And U.S. oil rigs often have higher rates of injuries or deaths than do rigs from other nations, the Sentinel reported.
Today, distress is substantial in the Gulf. Changes in the oil-drilling industry are needed. But they should be made for the right reasons.