Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oil Spills: the question of government regulation

by Peter Stern

While we often hear that big government is an intrusion into people's lives, during the past decade we have seen firsthand how government's lack of regulation impacts on our society and environment. In the U.S. it seems that we are a nation of extremes and it is often reflected in our own government.

Currently the Democrat and Republican parties maneuver government control to various points of the grid as directed by various special interests. For example, during the past decade when capitalism was in fashion and the corporate sector and Wall Street were raking-in huge
  profits Congress maintained a hands-off policy on banking and finance. After years of profit taking and corruptive influences over various markets, the profiteers began losing money. The domino-effect included the loss of savings, investments and generated higher number of home foreclosures for the American people. Suddenly, both parties and the special interests wanted the government to assume a larger role in regulating many areas of the economy. Years of deregulation and capitalism gave rise to more control and socialist type of government taxpayer bailouts for the very same companies who made billions in profits. We seldom see government maintaining a balanced or reality approach regarding regulation; however, the past decade of lax business regulation we have seen the folly with runaway business.

It is similar with regard to the oil industry. Lax enforcement of industry safety regulations have encouraged tragic consequences, e.g., the recent explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that is spewing millions of gallons of crude oil caused by failed safety equipment. Every modern oil rig has a failsafe mechanism called the blowout preventer, which employs a combination and stack of valves that may intercept and close the wellhead immediately in the event of an emergency where a swell of pressure mixing with oil and/or gas rises up, which if not shut-down may cause an explosion causing severe damage to the crew and rig and thereafter possibly permitting oil to disperse into deep waters. The BOP has 3 fail safe options built into its capability. The first is the manual shutdown practiced by the crew during operation via random drills. The second fail safe option after an explosion is an immediate and automatic self-activation of the BOP via an acoustic switch to shut-down operation and to stop oil from spilling. The third fail safe option of the BOP is to activate via electronic remote. The BOP installed on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig did not function in any of the 3 fail safe modes; consequently, there was an explosion that killed 11 of the crew and then allowed the release of oil into deep sea waters. Government permitted lax oversight and enforcement of the safety regulations and companies like British Petroleum were lax in their commitment to a safety first priority. The poor judgment resulted in human fatalities and in the pollution of our environment.

Since it becomes evident that since various oil companies will not provide their own reality-based oversight to ensure the safety of their employees and to protect our deep waters, sea life and shorelines we must come to the realization that some government control and regulation is needed. We do not need government to reel in the opposite direction and become an all controlling and powerful deity over all facets of our existence. However, we must recognize that we do need a government presence that provides intelligent and helpful regulation and oversight in many areas of our lives, specifically when it pertains to the oil industry re: the protection needed to ensure that oil drilling and transportation remain safe for humans and the environment and/or we must explore alternative and safer energy and fuel options.

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