Part 2: The well from hell is changing our lives

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It’s easy to empathize with those fellow dealers and boaters who are seeing their lives totally disrupted by BP’s well from hell. There are serious allegations that regulations and requirements were ignored and short cuts taken on the Deepwater Horizon rig that’s created the worst environmental disaster in history. If true, our rage would be justified and the demands to end drilling in our beautiful Gulf of Mexico would seem to be validated. But, sadly, we don’t really have a choice. Here’s why:

Unless we shut down the economy, we must have fossil fuels far into the future. Sure, more efficient light bulbs, energy saving appliances and cars with better mpg, for example, will cause more efficient uses of energy. Given that, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects the growth of energy consumption should average only 0.5 percent annually from now to 2035. However, that's still a 14 percent cumulative increase and oil’s share will still be 78 percent of the total energy consumed. (Oil, along with coal and natural gas, now supplies about 85 percent of our energy needs.) But, offsetting the projected energy savings will be more people (391 million vs. 305 million), more households (147 million vs. 113 million) and more vehicles (297 million vs. 231 million). Even though wind, solar and bio energy are expected to increase 10 times faster than overall energy use, they will provide only 11 percent of the supply in 2035, up from just over 5 percent today.

Affordable, abundant energy is basic to our nation’s prosperity. The transportation sector (including boats) of our economy currently accounts for 70 percent of the nation’s oil usage and that’s not expected to materially change in the future. Moreover, all the oil (currently 1.75 million barrels/day) coming from the U.S. waters in the Gulf is used in the U.S. and it represents a crucial 32 percent of our entire nation’s oil.

Remarkably, just 10 years ago the Gulf was dubbed the “dead sea” as its shallow water oil output had peaked and exploration was being abandoned by companies heading for better prospects in Russia and the Caspian Sea. Huge leaps, however, in three-dimensional seismic imaging and super computers opened the region’s deeper waters to successful exploration. There could be 40 billion barrels of reserves in the deep water. Several recent discoveries alone are estimated at 1.5 billion barrels.

Like it or not, its imperative we continue to tap the oil under the Gulf. In addition to providing critical jobs and economic importance to our Gulf states, it limits our dependence on insecure imports. Interestingly, China has reportedly forged a deal with Cuba to explore and tap into massive oil reserves almost within sight of Key West. The Chinese have already reopened an abandoned Russian refinery there. Here’s irony -- Chinese drilling could be even more of an environmental risk since it’s believed China is ill-equipped to deal with a major spill.

The Obama administration has made two recent moves, but only one is right. The President’s decree for a six-month moratorium on Gulf drilling is clearly not. Already struck down once in federal court, the administration continues to pursue it, thereby idling thousands of workers . . . this while we know, without a doubt, our economy depends on the Gulf’s oil. This moratorium should be lifted immediately!

On the plus side, the President’s immediate house cleaning at the Minerals Management Service that failed to do its job, and establishing a new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement is the right call. After all, human error, corner-cutting by BP and seriously failed inspections and oversight seem the main causes of the spill. With the oil industry's previous overall good safety record, coupled with what’s being learned from the well from hell now, good federal regulations, safety requirements and inspection programs can give us the assurances that there won’t be another well from hell. The reality is we must drill in the Gulf, so let’s get back to it.

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