Drilling in the Atlantic: Where O’Malley is Wrong and Obama is Right

I rarely agree with the Obama Administration, but I have to depart from my usual disagreement in order to come across the aisle and support the proposal to pursue oil exploration and drilling off the East Coast of the United States.

As anticipated, whenever the idea of oil drilling comes up, the largely incoherent cacophony of objections from the hard left begins to rise and you get articles like the one published in the New York Times today authored by Maryland’s former governor, Martin O’Malley (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/02/opinion/dont-drill-along-the-east-coast.html). Note that Mr. O’Malley left office this year and his lieutenant governor, running on a continuation of Mr. O’Malley’s policies was defeated by his Republican challenger, Larry Hogan. Mr. O’Malley is also considering a run for the White House (GovMatt coverage here). This is likely cover for his attempting to raise his national profile for his inevitable Senate race to replace Barbara Mikulski.

Let’s take a quick look at former Governor O’Malley’s arguments to get a sense of where he is coming from on the issue of Atlantic oil exploration:

“The facts support a ban on offshore drilling.” This is Mr. O’Malley’s first contention. While at the outset, no facts have been presented, we can assume he will present some concrete evidence as this opinion piece moves along. The next line, that a ban should be considered because of the economic and environmental diversity along the Eastern Seaboard is confusing. Clearly, without reading further we can see that this is going to be a fear-based argument rather than economic. How can we guess that? Because oil exploration off the Atlantic Coast would, necessarily, create more “economic diversity.” Consequently, Mr. O’Malley must be thinking that the risks of oil exploration are the problem.

“The BP Deepwater Horizon…” Predictably, the argument turns from prospective (e.g. what will oil exploration mean for the “environmental and economic diversity” of the Atlantic States) to fear-mongering. Here are some statistics for Mr. O’Malley: in PAD District 3, that is the Gulf Zone of oil refineries, there are 56 operating refineries. Source: http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_pnp_cap1_dcu_R30_a.htm. How many of these refineries are destroying the ecosystem?

Maybe Mr. O’Malley wants to deal solely with oil rigs, those have to be the bad guys polluting the seas, right? Well, here (https://www.ihs.com/products/offshore-oil-rig-data.html) would seem to indicate that there are hundreds of drilling platforms and rigs in the Gulf that are doing just fine. (Another source of info, here http://www.rigzone.com/data/results.asp?Region_ID=2)

“Climate change is likely to cause increasingly powerful hurricanes, like Sandy.” Here the former Governor simply doubles down on the fear. Gulf of Mexico oil rigs and refineries have, for decades, operated in the Gulf of Mexico where hurricanes are a regular hazard. These are not fishing dinghies sitting in the water, Governor, these are large structures that companies make a large investment in keeping safe. There are policies for making sure that powerful hurricanes do not simply destroy oil infrastructure. To combat Governor O’Malley’s Sandy anecdote, if we followed his logic, there should have been huge oil spills during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf “on the scale of the BP Deepwater.” That simply did not happen.

“Claims that safety has improved significantly in recent years should not be taken seriously.” To support this, Governor O’Malley cites that two people had been killed in explosions on oil and gas facilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that Mr. O’Malley is wrong. Source: http://www.bls.gov/iag/tgs/iag211.htm#workforce. Fatalities have decreased over the past two years in oil and gas extraction. For example, compare the 12 deaths in 2013 in oil and gas extraction to the 77 reported fatalities in Arts and Entertainment (Source: http://www.bls.gov/iag/tgs/iag71.htm). Should we shut down the Theaters, Governor?

“Oil prices are at record lows.” This argument is supposed to be that, since the United States is doing well in the moment, we shouldn’t think about the future and it’s too risky. Please tell that to the Saudis or any other oil producing nation that wants to increase its market share. Additionally, we are only in this position because energy explorers in the past decade decided not to heed the exact failed arguments Mr. O’Malley is making here.

Mr. O’Malley continues with rhetoric without solid proposals like “creating high tech jobs” and “clean-energy research” as if these issues are mutually exclusive. Of course industry should move forward on clean energy. We need not sacrifice building a base of energy security to provide a secure platform for innovation. Mr. O’Malley’s fear-based tactics of calamities rings so hollow as having no real position beyond attempting to appeal to a fringe base that fears any type of oil exploration. Mr. O’Malley’s opinion is not only not supported by the realities of the oil industry, but is also inaccurate with regards to the state of the American energy economy.

Matt McDaniel

Attorney and Political Commentator

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