By now, almost everyone has heard of the great tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico, with an offshore drilling platform sinking off the coast of Louisiana with 11 dead, the result of a blowout. The platform, Deepwater Horizon, was owned and ran by Transocean, on behalf of BP, one of the largest energy companies on earth. The accident occurred about 20 hours after Halliburton cemented the well head into place with the service pipe.
Blowouts have become extremely rare, and the equipment and technologies used to prevent them has become very good. Even when they do happen, damages are usually minimal. However, every once in a rare while, several things will go wrong at once; when this daisy chain of cascading failures does occur, the results can be catastrophic.
The fact is, there will always be an element of danger and risk in this profession. This is one of the reasons wages are higher, as you see in a number of other dangerous professions, such as commercial fishing in Alaska, Coal Mining, or Iron Working. Overall, the risk is low - but there is still risk.
Some of us choose to take risks in life, and others try to minimize them. Personally, I am a risk taker, and to live a safe, secure life just seems like a recipe for missing out: You can never eliminate risk anyways, and could be struck down by a car accident or rare disease tomorrow. Others, however, see it differently, and simply prefer to stack the odds in their favor, so as to attempt to enjoy a long life. There is plenty of room for both personality types in this world, and one isn't any better than the other; indeed, both are required to build successful human societies and communities.
Yet the tragic loss of life isn't the only tragedy here. The oil continues to leak into the Gulf, and by now is beginning to pollute the coastline of Louisiana, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of fisherman and dozens of small communities. This isn't an acceptable cost of doing business or providing for our energy needs, by any means.
Yet our energy needs won't simply go away. Though Green technology is making great progress, it is not great enough to handle the decline in production now occurring in some of the world's biggest fields - in Mexico, in the North Sea, and even in the Middle East, many of the most productive fields in the world are seeing their production crash. The only way to even partially meet the shortfall is by more offshore drilling and exploration.
This must, however, be done in a manner that also safeguards our fisheries, our coastlines, and our environment - and it can be. We will see that one of the results from this disaster is a mandatory, across the board improvement in safety and in blowout prevention technology. The big oil and drilling companies will be required to develop and implement new technologies that will reduce or eliminate the odds of something like this from ever happening again - and they will.
The cost of doing business will not be the occasional disaster, but the development of fool-proof safeguards, as well as the ability to shut off the flow of oil should a blowout still occur. One such method is engineering a two-stage control system that will shut off the flow right at the well-head should the need arise. Such a system was in fact in place in the recent accident, but it was untested and BP was unable to enable it. I doubt such a failure will occur in the future.
Drilling will continue, as will exploration and bringing new discoveries into production; it is not too much to state that our national survival depends on it. However, going forward, we must make every effort to ensure that the means of doing so are safe, considerate of protecting our environment, as well as the lives of the workers that ensure that the oil keeps flowing. This is a tall order, but one I believe we are fully capable of achieving.