Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why the administration's lies about a drilling moratorium matter

The WSJ has a column reviewing again what happened when the Department of the Interior published a report on safety recommendations supposedly reviewed and approved by a group of oil drilling experts that endorsed a six-month drilling moratorium. As the experts have now made clear, this recommendation was inserted after they had signed off on the report. They also point out that the administration also removed elements of a timeline that the experts had devised because it made clear that they expected oil drilling to continue.

So who made the decision to issue a report mischaracterizing the recommendations of this panel of experts?
"This was a political call; this was not a technical call," says Mr. Arnold [an engineer and consultant on the report.] Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has since testified that the call was his. But Robert Bea, from the University of California at Berkeley, who also reviewed the report, told us Interior had sent him a letter that "stated clearly that [the moratorium] had been inserted at the request of the White House." Mr. Bea pointed out that the Department of Interior is more than equipped to target and shut down specific Gulf operations that might offer safety concerns. There was no call for a moratorium "for industry as a whole."
This is the administration that prides itself on following the advice of experts and respecting science unlike those Republican dunderheads that preceded them. Obama loves touting his Nobel-prize winning Secretary of Energy. Just imagine the outrage in the scientific community if a journal edited an article submitted to it so that it said the exact opposite of what the authors concluded and then published it over those authors' names. That would be a scandal of the highest order. As this should be.

Remember, this change was inserted by political actors, not by experts. They had a political agenda - make the President look tough, like he was taking some action in response to the BP oil spill. But it had nothing to do with the safety of drilling. In fact, that was just the opposite. This decision is the exact opposite of a safety measure.
A big reason why those experts would have balked is because they recognize that the moratorium is indeed a threat to safety. Mr. Arnold offers at least four reasons why.

The ban requires oil companies to abandon uncompleted wells. The process of discontinuing a well, and then later re-entering it, introduces unnecessary risk. He notes BP was in the process of abandoning its well when the blowout happened.

he ban is going to push drilling rigs to take jobs in other countries. "The ones that go first will be the newest, biggest, safest rigs, because they are most in demand. The ones that go last and come back first are the ones that aren't as modern," says Mr. Arnold.

The indeterminate nature of this ban will encourage experienced crew members to seek other lines of work—perhaps permanently. Restarting after a ban will bring with it a "greater mix of new people who will need to be trained." The BP event is already pointing, in part, to human error, and the risk of that will increase with a less experienced crew base. Finally, a ban will result in more oil being imported on tankers, which are "more likely" to spill oil than local production.
Add in the economic costs of this decision and it's just crazy. Obama thinks it's enough to get funds from BP to help those left unemployed by his dishonest, political action. In his eyes, getting unemployment help is just as good as having a real job. Maybe he secretly agrees with Jerry Brown's statement that "We need more welfare and fewer jobs." That seems to be the choice that the Obama administration has made even if they had to lie about the experts' advice and endanger the environment to implement it.