Who’s Shouting “Drill, Baby Drill” Now?

Like a bolt from the blue, something – nobody still knows what – blew up an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico last week (photo above).  Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead from the explosion about 50 miles off Louisiana’s  coast. The accident caused a spill that’s sure to do horrendous damage to the environment.

I wonder what President Obama thinks when he sees TV images of the billowing oil slick covering an area the size of West Virginia? Does he still think it’s a good idea to “drill, baby drill” off Florida and other coastal states?

His recent decision to back offshore oil and gas exploration left me groping for answers. What was he thinking? Wasn’t drill-baby-drill his opponent’s battle cry in the 2008 election? I suppose it was another ploy in his be-kind-to-your-enemies political strategy, but as far as I am concerned it was a goofy idea.

For one thing, drilling off the U.S. coast is not going to make Americans one iota more independent of foreign oil. That’s not how the market works. And the oil this exploration produces won’t be on the market for many years.

But what concerns me most is the price America will undoubtedly pay for such politically expedient nonsense. That’s likely to include irreparable damage to the environment and lost revenue from tourism in states like Florida.

I know how Florida Senator Bill Nelson feels about it. In an April 26 letter requesting congressional hearings on exploration safety, he declared:

The explosion, ensuing fire, and continuing spill raise serious concerns about the industry’s claims that their operations and technology are safe enough to put rigs in areas that are environmentally sensitive or are critical to tourism or fishing industries.

And Florida Governor Charlie Crist is having second thoughts about the idea of drilling off his state’s coast.

Republicans in Florida have been pushing the idea of drilling within 10 miles of the coast. And Crist said earlier he’s willing to listen as long as drilling is far enough, clean enough and safe enough to protect the state’s beaches. But now he’s not so sure.

Environmentalists have no doubts about the dangers of offshore drilling. Tyler Priest, an oil industry historian at the University of Houston, said:

This is really sort of one of the nightmares for all the companies involved, and obviously the people who live along the coast are sort of helpless. I’m sure it’s going to galvanize the political opponents of expanded offshore leasing.

According to an article in The Christian Science Monitor today:

The spill endangers the fragile fish and shrimp nurseries of the Louisiana wetlands, which could be affected as early as Saturday. Up until this weekend, the Coast Guard and rig operator British Petroleum remained adamant that the spill could be contained. But environmentalists and lawmakers who oppose more coastal drilling are growing skeptical.

Tens of thousands of gallons a day are leaking from the site. At last check, the leak is pouring about 42,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf each day (aerial photo of oil slick above).

Clean-up efforts continue, with 500 people, 32 boats, and five aircraft working to size up and contain the spill, but the slick still grows. It is now within 90 miles of Pensacola’s beaches.