Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Oil Rules

(cartoon from Outside the Interzone)

I've had absolutely zero enthusiasm for posting about serious topics lately. It's all too damn depressing, and bitching in a blog post doesn't improve my mood.

Take the gulf oil spill (please), an environmental disaster of epic proportions. It's the inevitable result of our oil dependant society, and a system that rewards corruption. Cheap, profitable oil is sacred, and government regulation is seen as an obscene abomination to be removed or avoided at all costs. BP ignored the old proverb about "an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure", choosing to scrimp on safety valves to reduce costs and increase profits. It was cheaper to buy looser regulations.

So it's somewhat positive that the Obama administration is making an attempt to reform the Minerals Management Service, an agency with the conflicted agenda of both promoting and regulating off-shore drilling:

The Obama administration is proposing to split up an Interior Department agency that oversees offshore drilling, as part of its response to the Gulf Coast oil spill, The Associated Press has learned.

An administration official who asked not to be identified because the plan is not yet public said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will urge that Congress approve splitting the Minerals Management Service in two. One agency would be charged with inspecting oil rigs, investigating oil companies and enforcing safety regulations, while the other would oversee leases for drilling and collection of billions of dollars in royalties.

Currently, the Minerals Management Service, an arm of the Interior Department, is responsible for collecting more than $10 billion a year from oil and gas drilling and with enforcing laws and regulations that apply to drilling operations.

Some critics have said the two roles are in conflict and are one reason the agency has long been accused of being too cozy with the oil and natural gas industry.

An internal investigation in 2008 described a "culture of substance abuse and promiscuity" by workers at the agency. The investigation by Interior's inspector general found workers at the MMS royalty collection office in Denver partied, had sex with and used drugs with energy company representatives. Workers also accepted gifts, ski trips and golf outings, the report by Inspector General Earl E. Devaney said.


OK, it's really only a small step. The regulators and the industry were (sometimes literally) in bed together, and the results are now washing upon the shore. Separating the regulators from the promoters would at least encourage a moderate level of oversight, and a slight increase in safety.

But it's not going to solve the problem of our societies oil addiction: no winning politician is going to campaign on a platform of "we need to raise the price of gasoline" in the face of "drill, baby, drill". We'll have a nice little moratorium as the result of this disaster, then expand off-shore drilling as soon as the headlines have been forgotten.

And nothing I post on this little blog will have the slightest impact on that truth.


Fearguth said...

But what you post on your little blog has an impact on your readers. I was happy as a clam at high tide until you reminded me of the Gulf oil spill.


pygalgia said...

Sorry about spoiling your happy clamness. I'll try to post something uplifting soon.

Fearguth said...

Like a first-person account of a raft trip down the San Juan, perhaps?

SweaterMan said...

The biggest problem with a reversion to BAU is the fact that each succeeding problem - blowout, tanker crash, whatever - is almost exponentially worse than the last one. Already this is looking like it might be worse than the Exxon Valdez spill if they can't get it under control.

And what if it is? Do we do nothing until the next problem, which is worse than this one?

I dont't have a solution, other than everyone ride bicycles or start walking, but it is the problem that we are facing right now.

Demeur said...

I'd go one step farther and have the companies that do oil spill clean ups be in charge of the inspections. That might sound like a conflict of interest but until you've actually had to do a clean up then you won't know how demanding the work really is. Something anyone of us in the business would like to prevent.

Mauigirl said...

I know, I feel the same way - I haven't been able to muster the energy to even deal with the numerous disasters going on right now, particularly this oil spill. It makes me sick at heart. Let's hope for once we learn from the mistakes, but it isn't likely given our past history.