06.30.2010 0

Offshore Drilling and the “Legislative Fallacy”

  • On: 07/11/2010 23:35:55
  • In: Energy Crisis, Global Warming Fraud, and the Environment
  • By Victor Morawski

    Two main arguments have been used over the past few years to justify the view that offshore drilling, if done at all, should be done farther offshore.

    The first I call the “Aesthetic Argument.” Simply put, it observes that large structures like offshore oil platforms, if close enough to be clearly visible from shore, ruin one’s pristine view of the ocean. They just look bad and thus should be moved far enough from shore to prevent this from happening.

    But these problems are not unique to offshore oil drilling. The same considerations also attend offshore wind farms — a supposedly green technology — and were a focus of the recent controversy over the installation of wind turbines off Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts.

    The aesthetic argument only justifies moving these structures far enough offshore that they will not be an eyesore and cannot justify legislatively forcing an oil rig like the Deep Water Horizon nearly fifty miles offshore.

    What did this was the second argument, the “Environmental Impact Argument” which states that offshore oil drilling may be permitted legislatively in areas where its environmental impact is negligible (near zero).

    Citing its distance from shore (48 miles) and its claim that at such a distance — along with its response capabilities — “no significant adverse [environmental] impacts are expected” BP argued for and obtained from the Minerals Management Service (MMS) a waiver from an otherwise legally required environmental impact study before drilling in the area in which the Deep Water Horizon was located.

    Its claim was bolstered by three of the MMS’s own 2007 studies on the environmental impact of deep sea drilling that concluded that any deepwater spill would likely not exceed 4,600 barrels and would not reach the coast.

    Obviously these assumptions were wrong. But what are we to now make of the fact that the Environmental Impact Argument was based on several false premises? Environmentalists are of course ready to pounce on this as support for the discontinuance of deepwater drilling.

    Jacqueline Savitz of the marine conservation group Oceana, argued for the reinstatement of the moratorium on offshore drilling before the Obama Administration did so. She would like to see offshore drilling rigs replaced with an alternative technology like offshore wind — a nice thought if most of us had electric cars sitting in our driveways — but now, unrealistic and impractical.

    And Mike Brune of the Sierra Club thinks the current disaster “changes everything” and shows that, “It’s time to take offshore drilling off the table for good” — which also raises the question, “And replace it with what?”

    I take a different slant. The failure of the Environmental Impact Argument has leveled the playing field between deepwater drilling and drilling further in. No longer can the argument be made that only deepwater drilling should be legally permitted for new wells because only it can promise negligible environmental impact in the event of a spill.

    The biggest problem with the Environmental Impact Argument is not its false premises but that it had to be made at all — at least in the way the government forced BP to make it. I am not saying that the environmental impact of a project should never be considered when determining its approval. What I challenge is the assumption that an offshore drilling project can only be given legislative approval if its environmental impact can be shown be near zero — which is what BP was forced to argue for its offshore drilling ventures.

    This is a specific example of what I call the “Legislative Fallacy” — the wrongheaded view infecting much of liberal politics — that we can legislate ourselves away from the contingencies of life and which carries with it the implication that if something bad has happened, it must be because there was insufficient legislation in place to prevent it.

    If the Obama Administration ultimately prevails in the court system and it is reinstated, we will see it rear its ugly head again in the eventual debate over the lifting of the temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling.

    The President’s original intention was that before the moratorium would be lifted he wanted to make sure regulatory legislation was in place to force safety measures on deepwater wells effective enough to insure that a spill like the current one never happens again — an unrealistic guarantee to require in an imperfect world.

    Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu said it best when she said that, “No one ever claimed …that drilling is risk free…We must react to this disaster in a measured but right way.” Yet, is the Obama Administration looking for exactly that guarantee? And will its response be measured?

    Victor Morawski, professor at Coppin State University, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer for Americans for Limited Government.

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