U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman did his best to help out the Obama administration, but the president seems determined to go down in flames, or at least to wander aimlessly on a tar ball. Feldman’s decision to overturn Obama’s ill-considered six month ban on deepwater drilling in the gulf offered the president a convenient escape route from the corner he backed himself into. He could have – should have – used the court’s decision as a means to restore at least some measure of respect for his administration among the people of the gulf states who viewed the drilling moratorium as the second half of a one-two punch that threatens their way of life. With each passing day, the perception that the president has been hesitant, ineffective and unwilling to cut through bureaucratic red tape to fight the spill has grown. That perception is not going to change anytime soon. What might have changed is the view that Obama panicked and over-reacted by imposing a drilling moratorium in the midst of a crippling recession. Alas, the administration’s immediate and predictable reaction to Feldman’s decision – to have Interior Secretary Ken Salazar crank out a new version of the moratorium – demonstrated once again just how out of touch this particular collection of the ruling elite occupying the White House is.
“The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is an unprecedented, sad, ugly and inhuman disaster,” Feldman wrote in his opinion. “What seems clear is that the federal government has been pressed by what happened on the Deepwater Horizon into an otherwise sweeping confirmation that all Gulf deepwater drilling activities put us all in a universal threat of irreparable harm.”
Feldman thus firmly rejected Obama’s proposition that one accident, no matter how tragic, should indict an entire industry. A moratorium punishes the innocent for a disaster involving a single rig, a disaster that may have been caused by neglect or stupidity, or that may have been a result of a unique, unfortunate and unforeseeable chain of events. We can speculate, but no one actually knows exactly what chain of events led to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and we won’t know for quite some time. If you’re Barack Obama, your reaction to such an absence of certainty is to shove an entire industry safely under a bushel basket until government can make everything all better. If you live along the gulf and if you understand that the petrochemical industry is pretty darn important to maintaining prosperity in your section of the country, you probably look at things a bit differently. To put a point on it, most of the people who live in the gulf states understand that the one thing that could possibly hurt them more than an massive oil spill would be for the federal government to over-react to the disaster and punish tens of thousands of innocents over the alleged negligence of a potentially guilty few.
Not only was the moratorium ill-considered, it was dishonest. Salazar claimed that the six-month ban on deepwater drilling followed the recommendations of a panel of experts recommended by the National Academy of Engineering. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the panel didn’t actually recommend a moratorium and at least eight members of the panel rejected such an over-reaction. When it comes to environmental issues, the ruling green triumvirate of Obama, Energy Czarina Carol Browner and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson have fallen into a predictable pattern: find a tame group of academics who will dutifully parrot the administration’s agenda and then present these “independent recommendations” as supposed scientific consensus. Yet, when it came to deepwater drilling, the administration couldn’t even do that right. Accomplished engineers who had in fact presented recommendations regarding additional drilling safety measures were understandably upset when their views were distorted to suggest they supported a moratorium.
The price that the gulf states in particular, and the nation in general, will pay for a moratorium is unconscionable. A few facts about drilling in the energy-rich Gulf of Mexico deserve review:
About 30 percent of the nation’s total domestic oil production and 13 percent of domestic
natural gas production comes from the Gulf of Mexico
Approximately 80 percent of the oil and 45 percent of the natural gas in the Gulf come from deepwater exploration.
According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), a moratorium on deepwater drilling would result in the loss of up to 130,000 barrels of oil per day by 2011 and as much as 500,000 barrels per day between 2013 and 2017, making the United States more dependent on oil from other countries.
API’s calculations also show the moratorium could put 46,200 jobs at risk in the short-term and as many as 120,000 jobs over the long-term.
Every policy decision that a nation makes involves balancing risk versus reward. The Deepwater Horizon disaster brings the risks of deepwater drilling into the sharpest possible focus. Through a stroke of his pen, Justice Martin Feldman restored a degree of sanity to this never-ending evaluation. The Obama administration, through its continuing penchant to embrace panicked, knee-jerk reactions has shown, once again, that it is wholly incapable of considering risks versus reward and will continue to instead purse the politically expedient, but entirely unattainable, utopian vision of a world in which risk ceases to exist.