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Published: Sunday, 9/12/2010

Another oil fire

The recent fire on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico reminded Americans of the problems of drilling for oil there and the need to find other options.

The platform 90 miles off the Louisiana coast caught fire on the morning of Sept. 2, forcing its 13 workers into the sea. The crew was rescued and the fire put out by early evening. Fortunately, unlike the Deepwater Horizon oil rig tragedy in April, which killed 11 people, no one was lost or injured and, as far as is known, no oil spilled into the Gulf. These were both blessings, which could just as well have turned out the other way, with deaths and more petroleum product pouring into the Gulf.

Americans, including their leaders, have been lulled into complacency somewhat by the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The well was finally sealed. Organisms in the water have apparently eaten much of the 170 million gallons of spilled oil, reducing the severity of the accident's environmental impact, at least in the water if not onshore.

The principal company in the April disaster, BP, has been active both in the media and on the ground in trying to compensate — and being seen compensating — the financial victims of the accident. It is now warning that it might be financially unable to make matters right if Congress passes a bill, approved by the House in July, that includes an amendment that would bar the company from receiving permits to drill on the Outer Continental Shelf. This is a crude threat, to say the least, given the high profits that BP has produced over the years.

The main point for Americans of both the Deepwater Horizon and Mariner Energy accidents is that offshore drilling is risky and dangerous. Obtaining fossil fuels in that fashion, just as through coal mining and shale extraction, puts lives, the environment, or both at risk.

That no one was killed and no oil was spilled this time should not take the urgency out of the need to find other ways to provide America's energy. The nation got off easy in the most recent fire.

But there is no reason to believe that more accidents will not occur, or that they will have such modest outcomes. This problem remains unsolved.



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