The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Ban Not the Solution to Offshore Drilling Woes

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted August 20, 2010

(Editor's note: This Op-Ed from API President and CEO Jack Gerard was published in the Houston Chronicle, August 19, 2010.)

After taking a series of potshots at the American Petroleum Institute in his Sunday column ("Big Oil has it backward," Page D1), Loren Steffy closes with: "We need to proceed cautiously with new drilling and move quickly to draft new regulations that are broad and flexible enough to raise drilling standards without stifling a vital energy source."

We couldn't have said it better, which makes us wonder why he felt the need to excoriate API and its members. His portrait of our industry after the Deepwater Horizon incident ignores the oil and gas industry's quick and public recognition that improvements in offshore operations were necessary. He overlooks the industry's immediate and ongoing commitment to work with the government to come up with ways to ensure that the tragic accident is never repeated.

Here's what API and its member companies have done since the April 20 incident in the Gulf:

  • Shortly after the incident, API formed two task forces to address both short- and long-term issues related to offshore equipment and offshore operating practices. Both task forces went to work immediately to provide Interior Secretary Ken Salazar with immediate action items to raise the bar on safe performance. These recommendations were part of the government's initial report on the incident and response.
  • We expressed our desire to work with the Interior Department as it reorganized the Minerals Management Service.
  • We endorsed President Obama's creation of an independent commission to study the Deepwater Horizon incident and expressed hope policymakers would use the independent insights resulting from the commission's work to inform the legislative and regulatory process to ensure that decisions made do not have the unintended consequence of reducing domestic energy supplies.
  • In early June, we formed two additional task forces to address subsea well control and spill response and cleanup. Recommendations from these task forces will be provided to the Interior later this month.
  • As Steffy noted, last month four of the major oil and natural gas companies launched a $1 billion rapid response system to protect the Gulf in the event of another oil spill.
  • API and company staff members have testified before congressional committees, the presidential commission and other entities investigating the accident, explaining the need to improve safety while maintaining offshore operations and the crucial jobs that come along with them.

We have never objected to Congress' involvement in searching for solutions to the technical challenges surrounding deepwater drilling. We only ask that Congress wait until the various commissions investigating the causes of the incident complete their work. Common sense tells us prescribing legislative mandates to problems that have yet to be diagnosed could have serious consequences. No conscientious journalist would dream of publishing a solution to a highly technical problem outside his field without first checking with the experts. Likewise, members of Congress should wait until the experts have spoken.

And we cannot ignore that Interior has already imposed significant new requirements on drilling in the Gulf to improve safety, many of which were at the suggestion of API and the industry. There is no need for Congress to pass legislation that merely duplicates what the regulators are already doing.

As for our stance regarding the moratorium, we are far from alone. Both chairmen of the presidential commission have expressed strong reservations about the need for a moratorium, as well as concern about the effect of the ban on people's lives along the Gulf Coast and on the region's economy. Robert Bea, the renowned UC-Berkeley catastrophe expert who looked at the Gulf incident as part of the president's Deepwater Horizon Study Group, has said that a blanket ban on deep-water drilling is not the answer.

These concerns are echoed by elected officials along the Gulf coast and elsewhere, and by others who are worried about the long-term ramifications of an extended moratorium. And they are the concerns of API, which represents more than 400 companies, including hundreds of suppliers and contractors in the Houston area and elsewhere that support hundreds of thousands of employees whose livelihoods are in jeopardy as a result of the moratorium.

We at API understand that April 20 has changed the landscape for our industry. But we are also keenly aware that America still needs oil and natural gas, and will need it for decades to come. We believe that our nation's long-term energy security is too important to be decided on short-term political considerations. That is our motivation for demanding reasoned responses to what happened in the Gulf.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.