The optimist in you might say, “Better late than never.” The pessimist in you might ask, “What took so long?” On June 29, over seventy days after the Gulf oil spill, the U.S. Department of State released the following statement:
The National Incident Command and the Federal On Scene Coordinator have determined that there is a resource need for boom and skimmers that can be met by offers of assistance from foreign governments and international bodies. The United States will accept 22 offers of assistance from 12 countries and international bodies, including two high speed skimmers and fire containment boom from Japan. We are currently working out the particular modalities of delivering the offered assistance. Further details will be forthcoming once these arrangements are complete.
In total, there have been 27 countries and 5 international organizations offering boom, dispersants, skimmers, vessels, bird rehabilitation equipment as well expertise. Along with the other important action items for the administration to undertake, accepting international assistance must be a more urgent priority. The Department of State has a chart that lists the equipment and expertise sitting on the sidelines with most of the status orders “under consideration.” Owners of the equipment have been rapid in their response to government queries but the equipment remains idle. It simply needs to be better.
Meanwhile, the Gulf continues to suffer. It’s not just government incompetence when it comes to the environmental cleanup; the administration’s policy decisions are making the economic harm much worse – especially the offshore drilling moratorium. Although the ban was only meant to affect those rigs operating in water 500 feet or deeper, it has led to a de facto ban on shallow water drilling. CNN Money reports,
“[D]rillers in shallow water say they haven’t been issued permits since the April 20 explosion. The delay has already forced hundreds of layoffs, and many more could be on the way. “I’m almost out of business over here,” said Paul Butler, president of Spartan Offshore, a small drilling company in Metairie, La.
Butler said that only one of his four drill rigs are operating; all four were drilling before the spill. Spartan has six contracts that would put his entire fleet back to work, but he can’t get going until the permits come through, he added. The week before last, Butler said he had to lay off 72 employees. Come Tuesday he’ll have to let another 140 go. “That’s 140 families, is how I look at it,” Butler said.
Same is true at Hercules Offshore, the largest shallow water driller in the Gulf. “The Department of Interior isn’t issuing permits,” said Jim Noe, a Hercules executive. “By mid July all of our rigs will be on the beach, and the workers without a job.”
Part of the reason is because the Department of Interior put new regulations in place after the Gulf oil spill, but shallow water drillers contest their operations are much safer. Regulatory reform is necessary, but not by piling on additional regulations. The federal government needs to allow BP and the other entities involved in the operations and oversight to find out what caused the explosion and why “fail¬safe” mechanisms like the blowout preventer did not work. The government should also be aware of the unintended consequences of mandating certain technology standards, especially technology-specific regulations that reduce the incentive for more effective technologies to reach the market. The jobs lost from the de facto ban on shallow water drilling is a clear example of this.
Accepting resources and lifting the moratorium should be two of the top priorities on President Obama’s to-do list.