Leading article: The lessons of the Gulf of Mexico crisis

Share
Related Topics

Could it happen here? The environmental disaster that followed the blow-out of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico has shown that deep-water drilling is indeed a hazardous activity. Perhaps for too long we have taken for granted the extraordinary achievement that is the North Sea project. Forty years ago, when a startled nation first became aware that the UK might be on the verge of an oil bonanza, it was seen as one of the great engineering wonders of the world; never before had oil been extracted from such inhospitable surroundings.

The Piper Alpha disaster in 1988 brought the dangers into sharper relief. They are in sharp relief again now. There is a strong case for reassessing the costs – human, environmental, economic – and the benefits of deep-water drilling. While that is done, the precautionary principle ought to apply, and an immediate halt called to deep-water drilling off the Shetlands.

President Barack Obama has declared a moratorium on such drilling of the US coastline; the Norwegian government has followed suit in its sector of the North Sea. But our own Government's new energy minister, Charles Hendry, has only promised renewed vigilance. That is not good enough. As the world's demand for fossil fuels shows little sign of diminishing – largely driven now by the still rapidly growing economies of emerging Asia – the oil companies will continue to push the boundaries of exploration, and take more risks. In the Falklands, the Albertan oil sands and Angola, the push to squeeze out every last drop of oil goes on. But the balance of costs and benefits has been tipped by the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. "Peak oil", the point when the supply of global oil start to decline, could arrive sooner than the usual estimate of 2015.

This is the real lesson of the present crisis. Whether Tony Hayward, the chief executive of BP, survives, or whether his company is broken up is a secondary question. Another BP boss will carry on going deeper for oil; BP's assets will be taken over by another oil giant doing much the same thing in much the same way. The debate over whether President Obama has been competent in handling the present crisis is also of secondary importance. The issue here is not crisis response, but the very safety and sustainability of deep-sea drilling.

Like the banks, we see now how a big business, left for too long to its own devices, can take too many risks for the good of wider society. Like the big banks, big oil needs to be restrained.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Are you looking for part time/ ...

SEN (SLD/PMLD) Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a quailed Teacher ...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Currently looking for teachers ...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Theresa May doesn’t get it - banning ideas we don’t like is to suggest that we are frightened of them

Mike Harris
David Cameron gives his keynote speech to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham  

Conservative Party Conference: Here's what David Cameron said in his speech…and what he meant

John Rentoul
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?