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As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these 12 Southern California fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

Not as bad as you think

Q: Republican leaders have built their energy policies around increased oil and gas extraction, dismissing environmental dangers. How should they respond to the Gulf oil spill if they want to preserve offshore drilling as a politically viable option?

It goes without saying that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is a monstrous environmental disaster. Considering it may be another six days at least until the leak is sealed, it could eclipse--and by some calculations has already surpassed--the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill as the worst in American history. Just saying that something could rival Exxon Valdez magnifies the gravity of the situation and activates worst-case scenario imaginations.

But how bad was Exxon Valdez? The name itself carries such great consequence that many Americans might believe it's the worst oil spill in history. In terms of volume, there have been 33 oil spills around the world that surpassed the Exxon Valdez. Furthermore, the light sweet crude seeping into in the Gulf of Mexico evaporates and dissipates much more quickly than the 260,000 barrels of heavy crude that gushed into Prince William Sound in 1989. Finally, the devastation of the Exxon Valdez spill largely arose from great difficulties in reaching and treating the spill site. Though I don't want to brush off the devastation that this spill will wreak, a little perspective makes Deepwater Horizon seem less apocalyptic.

Furthermore, Republicans oil drilling advocates could contend that bringing more oil production home is actually better for the environment. Of the 20 largest oil spills in history, none occurred in the US and, since 1990, no oil spills in US waters has exceeded 167,000 barrels, which includes roughly calculated oil spillage caused by Hurricane Katrina. It may mean that on a global scale, fragile ecological systems are safer if drilling occurs under US regulations and with US technologies. Again, while every drop of oil that leaks into the world's oceans is ruinous, some perspective on the disaster may help illuminate broader impacts and mitigate criticism.

Though I believe that an oil-only energy policy is misguided, oil advocates could strengthen their case in the wake of this public relations nightmare by giving Americans a sense of where the disaster really stands in history, while also making the case that drilling at home means both more energy security and relative environmental protection. --Sean Holiday

By Coro Fellows

 |  May 4, 2010; 12:03 PM ET
Category:  Public policy Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Time for a real energy policy | Next: GOP job plan for Gulf coast?

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Dear Ignorant Leadership of Tomorrow:

Perhaps if the blowout preventer valve had an acoustic trigger as used in Europe, we wouldn't have such a big problem. But that's a Socialist solution to a Capitalist problem, which is clearly unacceptable in this country, and probably unconstitutional as well. However, I also think that Bobby Jindal will be the Socialist party candidate for president in 2012, and that's pretty ironic, huh?

Yes, it's light crude and thus no major problems will ensue. Hey, where's Sarah Palin been lately? I'm ready to Drill Baby, Drill!

kMac's Well Drilling, LLC

Posted by: usblues1 | May 5, 2010 1:02 AM
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Are patent lies allowed to go unchallenged on these blog posts?

"the light sweet crude seeping into in the Gulf of Mexico evaporates and dissipates much more quickly than the 260,000 barrels of heavy crude that gushed into Prince William Sound in 1989" --leaving far more particulate that is impossible to remove from an ocean

"Oil-only" policy? --emptiest of strawmen

It disgusts me that the Washington Post allows itself to be associated with such tripe which could perhaps by some be mistaken for a legitimate source of information.

Posted by: chuckholden | May 4, 2010 9:05 PM
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And if you idiots are the leadership of the future, we are DOOMED!

Posted by: MajorMelFunkshion | May 4, 2010 6:36 PM
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"Though I believe that an oil-only energy policy is misguided, oil advocates could strengthen their case in the wake of this public relations nightmare by giving Americans a sense of where the disaster really stands in history,..." Moron, this will be the worst disaster ever, get it?

Posted by: MajorMelFunkshion | May 4, 2010 6:33 PM
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Hmm. This argument should be filed under the infamous "...but except for that, Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?" category for nonsensical, minimize the catastrophe, advocacy.

Posted by: ThomasWMutherJr | May 4, 2010 6:32 PM
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Oh man, that is LOL indeed.

Posted by: amaikovich | May 4, 2010 6:21 PM
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Hey, idiot ... this WAS drilling under US regulations.

And under what regulations do you think drilling will be done? Liberia's?

Stupid argument. Stupid writer. Go to FOX you'll fit right in.

Posted by: topwriter | May 4, 2010 5:06 PM
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"...it may be another six days at least until the leak is sealed..."

Six days? Either you are an untrammeled optimist, or that is a typo, or else you are off by an order of magnitude. It took months to seal a similar leak off Australia.

"[O]il advocates could strengthen their case in the wake of this public relations nightmare by giving Americans a sense of where the disaster really stands in history."

This is very tenuous and the author most know it. I would hate to be the politician trying to make this argument. This is the kind of fallacy best left to entertainers who don't have to answer to constituents like Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh.

Trying to say that US regulations prevented this from being a bigger disaster is a fool's errand. Face it: the fail-safe device FAILED. The oil industry and Republicans in congress have repeatedly weakened or blocked regulations that would have required a more robust blowout preventer. There is no way to make this story more favorable to drilling proponents other than to let time do its magic. This summer, while Americans are munching hot dogs and drinking beer, we will forget all about Deepwater Horizon, and then BP and its Republican lackeys can go back to weakening or delaying regulations like they always do. "We're creating American jobs!" Yes, if spreading booms from a fishing boat is a career choice...

Posted by: obeah | May 4, 2010 3:22 PM
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