But economic and technological hurdles – as well as political ones – stand in the way of a significant change in the US's energy diet. Electric cars, biofuels, or some other technology will one day consign the internal-combustion engine to history's dustbin. For the moment, though, it looks far easier to create a more foolproof blowout preventer or safer drilling technique than to find a cheap, simple, and ubiquitous alternative to oil.
So what are the lessons of the Great Spill of 2010?
1 Improve the offshore police
Wanted: People who understand the physics of recovering oil from the bottom of the ocean floor. Need to be intimately familiar with the mechanics of deep drilling – in other words, know that a RAM BOP has nothing to do with text messaging. Must be tough-minded and dispassionate. Must be willing to refuse any "gifts" from the oil industry, like free hunting and fishing trips. No golf outings with industry executives, either.
This may soon be a job description coming to a classified ad near you. One outcome of the spill is the need for a retooled system to regulate energy exploration and production. Among the most pressing needs: more offshore sheriffs – people trained to inspect drilling rigs. Mary Kendall, the acting inspector general in the Department of Interior, told Congress recently that the Minerals Management Service (MMS) had about 60 inspec-tors to oversee the 4,000 or so offshore oil production and exploration facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. More and better-trained staff is likely to be a top priority.
No one knows, of course, if tougher federal regulations and enforcement would have pre-vented the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Until the massive 450-ton blowout preventer that failed is hauled off the ocean bottom, it will be impossible to know what mechanical and human errors occurred. Yet there are already a few clues about what to do better.