News / USA

Gulf Oil Spill Puts Critical Spotlight on Industry

The ongoing oil spill from a sunken rig operated by BP in the Gulf of Mexico has put a harsh spotlight on the oil and gas industry.  The accident has sparked renewed calls for stronger government regulation of energy operations.  The industry continues to have support from both politicians and the general public.

The ongoing oil spill and the threat it poses to both the ecology and the economies of coastal states could represent, at the very least, a giant public relations problem for the oil and gas industry.  The Obama administration has halted plans to develop new leases in some Gulf and Atlantic coast areas that have been off limits to energy development and some members of Congress are recommending much more stringent regulation of offshore drilling.

But Sara Banaszak, senior economist with the American Petroleum Institute, says public support for the industry remains strong.

"In more than one poll that has been conducted nationwide since this incident has occurred, the majority of Americans do still support increased production of oil and gas from offshore," she said.

That is because, she says, most people, and many politicians, while horrified by the images of oil spilling out over Gulf waters, continue to see economic benefits for the country from producing energy from domestic resources.

"Not only do we export dollars when we purchase oil and import it, but we export jobs.  So, if we keep economic activity in this country, if we choose to produce the oil and gas we consume in this country, there is a huge economic benefit from having that activity take place here, in terms of jobs," said Banaszak.  "It is not just the person working on the drilling rig, but there is an incredible multiplying effect for the economy," she added.

But Ken Medlock, an energy expert at the Baker Institute at Rice University here in Houston, says it is probably too early to say what reaction the oil spill will have on public opinion or policy.  He says even here in the Gulf coast region, people are torn by their environmental and economic interests.

"I remember as a child going and playing in the areas that are potentially going to be affected and to think that that is all going to change more or less overnight is a little bit more than upsetting," said Medlock.  "But, at the same time, we have to understand that, while this is an emotional issue, we rely very heavily on the resources that are developed in the region and we need to really understand what has happened before we have any knee-jerk [spontaneous] policy reactions," he said.

Medlock says BP is not alone in its struggle with the leaking well; other companies have been offering assistance, both technically and materially. He says everyone in the industry understands that this is a problem not just for one company, but for all of them.

"It is interesting how quiet the industry has been in terms of any critical thinking on the issue, not just with regard to the blowout itself, but also with regard to how BP is handling it, because, I think, at the end of the day, what everyone is waiting for is the result of an investigation, [to know] what actually happened, because it is hard to be critical until we actually know," said Medlock.

The BP spill continues to pump about 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf and company officials are working on a number of plans to stop it.  Ken Medlock says some guide to how bad it could get is provided by the last big rig explosion in the Gulf.  It happened in June of 1979 and involved the Ixtoc rig operated by Mexico's government-owned oil company, PEMEX.

"Oil was actually was pouring from a marine riser, it was under water, much like this one, for nine months at a rate of 30,000 barrels a day and it eventually slowed to about 10,000 barrels a day and oil eventually reached up to about 150 miles [240 kilometers] of the south Texas coast," he said.  "That is probably the closest example to what is going on right now, that we can look at, and hopefully this does not get that bad," Medlock said.

The Ixtoc disaster lasted nearly 10 months and put more than 3 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  While there was damage to coastal areas in both Mexico and the United States, those areas eventually recovered.  The state of Texas asked Mexico for compensation, but none was ever provided.

But BP is not a national oil company; it is a private, multi-national company.  It is likely to be liable for billions of dollars in damages, and legal cases stemming from this spill may take decades to fully resolve.

You May Like

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs