STATES ALONG the Gulf of Mexico have bet their fishing and tourism industries on the safety of oil drilling offshore, and that bet, which New England has refused to make, has turned into a losing one. The nation as a whole should take the growing oil spill in the Gulf as a warning — that there are consequences to relying so heavily on fossil fuels, and that domestic oil production is no panacea for US energy needs.
President Obama announced earlier this year that he would permit more offshore drilling. Even under that policy, the waters of New England and especially the fertile fishing grounds of Georges Bank would still be off-limits. Yesterday, Obama sensibly said there will be no new drilling anywhere until engineers learn what caused the Deepwater Horizon oil rig to explode and its “blowout preventer’’ to fail. That inquiry should begin even while efforts continue to stop the discharge of oil into the Gulf — currently at the rate of 5,000 barrels a day — and contain the massive leak. It’s vital to prevent more disasters. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ordered teams to inspect the 30 drilling rigs and 47 production platforms in deepwater locations in the Gulf.
Four decades ago, an oil-rig spill off Santa Barbara in California helped give birth to the environmental movement. Since then, the oil drilling industry has had a generally good record. That was one reason that Obama ended the moratorium on drilling from Delaware to Florida. By doing so, he hoped to win support from drilling advocates for the broader energy and climate change legislation working its way through Congress.
If that didn’t change minds, the current disaster should. The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 and threatens the wildlife and beaches of the Gulf Coast, follows closely on the Upper Big Branch coal mining disaster in West Virginia, which killed 29. Both of these fossil-fuel disasters pale in comparison to the much greater one that continued reliance on hydrocarbons will produce — a planet made drastically different by climate change. Obama should seize this moment to get Congress to act. When it comes to slowing global warming, US leadership is a blowout preventer that could work.