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Gulf oil spill: Two years later, safety lessons ignored

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But the political debate is missing all this. GOP presidential candidates have spent months chiding the Obama administration for being “an anti-energy president."  Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has responded by touting the increase in domestic production of energy.

Indeed, onshore energy production – both from oil and natural gas – is undergoing a renaissance in the US. Since March 2010, total US field production of oil has increased from 5.5 million barrels per day to 6.1 million barrels per day, a 10 percent rise in only two years, even with the decrease in offshore production. Most of this new production is due to the perfecting of technology that allows the extraction of shale oil in places like the Bakken Field of North Dakota and the Eagle Ford Shale formation of Texas.

In addition, the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency have each given a regulatory go-ahead to Royal Dutch Shell to drill exploratory wells for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off the coast of northern Alaska this summer. The Arctic Ocean is a much more hostile environment than the Gulf of Mexico, but this drilling will be at a depth of only 110 to 125 feet – far less than the 5,000 foot depth at which Deepwater Horizon was drilling.

Unfortunately, in the heated political debate, much of the nuance needed for sensible policy is lacking. All energy exploration involves risk. Effective risk management is important in such extreme and complex systems like drilling in 5,000 feet of water, fracking apart shale rock, or in the Arctic.

The political debate on energy, however, has acted more like a pendulum: either too much regulation, followed by too little. So long as our political system promotes constantly expanding production, the risks of spills and other accidents increase along with it.

– Andrew Holland is a Washington-based expert on energy, climate change, and infrastructure policy and a Fellow for Energy and Environmental Security with the American Security Project.

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