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William O'Keefe
CEO, George C. Marshall Institute

William O'Keefe

William O'Keefe is CEO at the George C. Marshall Institute, a think tank that promotes better use of science in public policy. He is a former COO at the American Petroleum Institute.

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Lower risks, don't eliminate them

The hand wringing, shouting, and table pounding to stop offshore exploration and production were as predictable as sunrise and sunset. The worst time to discuss energy policy going forward is in the midst of a crisis. Politicizing this tragic accident is the last thing that should be tolerated. It certainly won't lead to a more informed policy on oil and gas exploration.

The highest priorities right now are first to stop the leak and then to launch an aggressive recovery and restoration effort. And, while those activities are underway, steps need to be taken to arrange to compensate those who are being economically harmed. Finally, there needs to be a thorough, factual based investigation of what caused the accident and why redundant blow out prevention systems failed to work.

The Gulf of Mexico is a major source of U.S. oil production, upwards of 30 percent. Over the years, thousands of wells have been successfully drilled. The record is a good one. While it is easy to second guess BP and the owner of the rig, sometimes major accidents happen in spite of best efforts and response efforts are rarely perfect because information is often lacking or conflicting and choices during a crisis are often not clear cut.

Those who want to impose another moratorium are the same people who object to oil imports. They can't have it both ways. Either we produce oil domestically or we import it. Our economy depends on mobility and mobility is driven by liquid hydrocarbons. Factual realities should not be trumped by sound bites, political rhetoric, or a 24-hour news cycle that demands information and answers even when they don't exist.

The Energy Information Administration projects that we will likely be consuming as much oil in 2030 as we consume today in spite of advances in transportation technologies. Oil is versatile, abundant, economical, and possesses a high power density. Until there is a commercially viable alternative that possesses similar qualities, oil will remain the dominant source of transportation fuel.

Over the past 41 years, there have been three major offshore spills. The Santa Barbara spill in 1969 lead to the development of blow out preventers. The accident in Prince William Sound in 1989 lead to greater use of double hulled tankers. There are lessons to be learned from this accident that can lead to improvements in drilling technology that will lower the risk of another accident of this magnitude. It would be shear folly to have the advances and improvements that surely will result from a thorough analysis of this accident to be of no value because politics once again lead to a self imposed embargo on producing our own oil and gas.

The reality is that we live in a world of risks and a world where sometimes the unexpected happens. There are "black swans." In a world where risks are a reality, the goal should not be to try to eliminate them which is impossible but to lower them as much as practical and build resilience into our systems so that we are better able to respond to the inevitable unanticipated event.

By William O'Keefe  |  May 5, 2010; 5:22 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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"Those who want to impose another moratorium are the same people who object to oil imports."

On several counts that may be wrong. I see no need for offshore drilling and I don't especially have any problem with imports. Most of our imported oil comes from Canada and Mexico and as often as not US oil companies are deriving revenue from contracts they have from those sources.

It would be far better to reduce oil consumption. But I don't expect much of that matters. The question is will the public tolerate offshore oil drilling.

Perhaps you should go down to the coastal areas in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi and ask them how they feel about drill, baby drill. It looks like they shouldn't be bothered by drilling a little closer to shore.

Posted by: James10 | May 9, 2010 7:12 PM
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"Those who want to impose another moratorium are the same people who object to oil imports." That's not necessarily true. A lot of us on the Left want to wane this country off of oil at all speed, and eventually get oil from neither place. Of course the Right & a lot of coroporate interests use the fact that such an endeavor would be costly & take a while to complete, to justify just never starting. We as a country defeated the Germans & Japanese in three years, we got to the moon in ten years, we cut the Americas into two for God-sakes (Panama Canal), and yet here we cannot. Americans need to get patriotic about something other than war, and we need to get on board with 21st century energy technology. I don't say that just because of this spill in the gulf, but it is part of the picture just the same. They are still dealing with oily beaches in Alaska 21 years after their major spill.
Also, Mr. William O'Keefe is CEO at the George C. Marshall Institute, "a think tank that promotes better use of science in public policy." If they wanted to be honest they could just replace the word "better" with the words "more corporate friendly". But that is what these big industries do, they set up dozens of PR firms posing as think tanks, and they always give them nice, innocuous names like The Foundation for Freedom, or "People for the American Way", or "FreedomWorks", see a pattern? When they say "freedom", they don't mean you and me directly, they mean giant corporations, who may or may not be acting responsibliy, deserve freedom from any government interference.

So thank you Mr. O'Keefe, for your diligent efforts in making the science in our public policy debate "better". 5,000 barrels of oil are leaking into the gulf every day, we all pay $2.80 a gallon at the pump, and BP made five billion dollars in profit last year. Sounds to me like EVERYBODY WINS!!

Posted by: Scubergmu | May 9, 2010 10:54 AM
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The quest for perfection can ruin us.

"unless it is absolutely safe beyond a shadow of doubt."

Nothing is that safe. Certainly not life.

This means do not do it.

The dead hand of the past will always want us to be totally safe - which means dead.

That is not our goal and should not be the way we live.

We need to do what we can and fix mistakes when we can.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | May 8, 2010 6:03 PM
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The response from oil industry regarding the Gulf spill is typical... "we need more oil, oil, oil to to meet our never ending need for more energy now, now, now so don't let one spill change your mind about drilling." Well, it is entirely appropriate that we stop and think where our priorities should be as we move past this event. If ONE oil spill destroys an entire ecosystem, then is drilling one more deep water well worth it? Absolutely NOT. The verdict is still out on the full impact of the Gulf spill and no decisions about the future of deep water drilling can be made until we know the conclusion. Yes, major upgrades in safety will be the minimum consequence for god's sake. It should have required in the first place, and I hope that BP is sued to oblivion for their shortcuts and greed.

As a citizen of this country I am fed up with the strangle hold big oil has on public policy regarding energy derived from extraction technology. I am skeptical of any industry that has their brand of power and control.

We need to send big oil back the stone age where they belong and move away from extraction technology and push hard to develop renewable and sustainable energy, petroleum from biomass, algae based biofuels, strict conservation measures and even nuclear energy. There is so much we can do right now with readily available know how and technology, but it is stifled by special interest lobbies and subsidies to the oil industry.

No one advocates an immediate end to all drilling for oil but we absolutely must NOT continue deep water drilling unless it is absolutely safe beyond a shadow of doubt. Our human existence is much more dependent on the health of our environment than our need for oil.

Posted by: citizen4truth1 | May 8, 2010 4:26 PM
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It is not energy policy that needs to be discussed before allowing drilling off the East Coast, it is safety. It has been proven time and again that only when there is an accident does anyone actually pay attention to safety in regards to oil. As you pointed out, the double hulled ships would never have been required if there had been no Valdez accident. Now is the time to come up with better safety standard--Before you drill in a virgin, un-drilled area and screw it up for life. If you drill first, I can hear all the "grandfathering" that will allow the oil companies not to have to follow the new rules. Another example: Last year there was an oil leak that lasted from August to November off Australia's coast in water at a similar depth. Obviously there was no great meeting of the minds after to discuss how to make things safer...because there was no ban on drilling to force it. The oil companies have to get it right before drilling in new areas that they have not already poisoned. They should be required to use the Sub-Safe principles of triple redundancy and close tolerances because, yes, all of our lives depend on them not spilling all the oil into the sea.

Posted by: Pirate2 | May 6, 2010 3:15 PM
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