Oil spill demands research, effective safety rules

Credit: Courtney Wittekind/News Editor Credit: Courtney Wittekind/News Editor

With the Deepwater Horizon oil well capped and the headlines thinning out, it looks as though things may be reaching a more constant, if not necessarily normal, state in the United States Gulf Coast region. But as the discussions subside about the Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill in the Gulf, it is important not to forget what we can learn from this disaster. Lessons learned with this most recent spill need to be remembered and applied to oil rigs around the world.

On April 20, there was an explosion on Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon rig, which was licensed to BP. Within two days, the $560 million rig sank to the bottom of the ocean. People began to realize how serious a problem the well was becoming as oil continued to gush. The well was capped by mid-July, but after over 100 days of leaking oil, the U.S. government estimates 4.9 billion barrels of oil were released.

So now it’s only a matter of making sure this never happens again, right?

While this of course seems like a simple enough concept, it is much harder in practice. In fact, 30 years ago, the IXTOC rig, also located on the Gulf Coast — although in much shallower waters — exploded, causing millions of barrels of oil to leak into the ocean. Sound familiar?

The fact of the matter is that we aren’t going to stop drilling. Our economy runs on energy and, for now, a lot of that power comes from oil. But the huge demand for power shouldn’t stop regulation and a strong focus on safety. Because the Deepwater Horizon spill lasted so long, it is easy to forget about what happened when it all started: Safety lapses caused the death of 11 people, as well as lasting damage to the Gulf. Without a strong commitment to research, regulation, and safety, it might not be that long until a disaster like the one this summer is repeated.