On the two-year anniversary of the BP Oil Spill, experts talk future of petrolum

Apr 20, 2012

Friday was the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  That also fell two days before Earth Day.  Those events come at the same time the debate over the future of oil is ramping up.  Tom Flanigan talked with people on both sides of the issue and filed this report.

Much has been made of both events with special observances and news stories.  But for the average person, there is a more immediate and persistent reality when it comes to the fossil fuel known as gasoline.  That is the fact the cost of a gallon of regular is still flirting with the four-dollar mark.  The recent run-up in pump prices has taken place despite a dip in domestic demand and an increase in domestic production.  Jack Gerard is president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, D.C.  He says at least part of the increase is driven by speculation. But he insists more domestic production would put downward pressure on worldwide oil prices.

“As the Congressional Research Service points out, we are the most energy-rich nation in the world.  We have vast quantities of oil and natural gas right here.  So while we can’t totally control the Middle East, while we can’t totally impact the global basis, we can contribute by bringing more supply to the marketplace.”

Aliki Moncrief who heads Environment Florida doesn’t think that would have much impact.

“Our total reserves are two-percent of what exists in the world, but our consumption is twenty-percent of world production.  And so the idea that extracting every last drop that we have in the U.S. – the idea that that two-percent is going to drive down the world market – is completely false.”

Gerard counters that more domestic natural gas production has caused a plunge in prices.  The same, he says, will work when it comes to oil…

“And if we’re to take that experience and expand it to crude oil as well, we’d see the same thing longer-term.  That’s why we’re very bullish and upbeat about not only the benefits to create jobs in this country to produce oil and gas, but the huge benefit to consumers.”

A view not shared by Brad Ashwell of the Florida Public Interest Research Group.

“The bottom line solution is that somehow we can drill our way out of our problems and that’s just not the case.  Most people would agree with the president – most experts agree with the president – the fact that oil speculation is playing a large role in driving up oil and gas prices.  Whether congress will do something about that or whether anything can be done about that can be done on a global scale is a question.”

Another issue is closer to home, as far as Floridians are concerned.  It’s the lingering damage, both ecological and financial, from the BP oil spill catastrophe two years ago.  The Petroleum Institute’s Gerard acknowledges it was something that should never have happened.  He also says the industry is determined it won’t happen again…

“We’ve developed what we call the Center for Offshore Safety based in Houston.  Through that we’re bringing in third-party auditors; people not affiliated with the oil and gas industry to audit our operations, to look at them with an independent view to make sure that we’re bringing best practices so not only are we protecting our people, but we’re protecting the environment.”

Environment Florida’s Moncrief believes no oversight body, no matter how well-intentioned, can change the risk equation.

“The oil industry, they’re pushing further and further out.  They’re going deeper and deeper and the technology isn’t there.  There is no guarantee of safe oil drilling and for Florida the risk so outweighs the benefits…all the risk is borne by the public.”

BP continues to pay compensation for the spill.  On top of the billions already paid, more cash is on the way to those damaged by the disaster.  An independent audit of the Gulf Claims facility, urged by U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and others in congress, forced the re-evaluation of more than seven thousand claims valued at some sixty-four million dollars.  More than half of the claims are in Florida and that’s where about $38 million of the money will go.