On April 5, 2010, a mining accident in Montcoal, West Virginia resulted in 29 deaths. This was the latest in a long history of coal mining disasters. According to this report of the U S Mine Rescue Association, 265 miners have lost their lives in 623 coal mine disasters.
On April 20, 2010, an offshore drilling accident in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in 11 deaths. As best as we can learn from this summary and others, deaths from offshore rig blowouts total 242, of which 167 occurred in the same horrific accident. Including the BP Macondo accident, four blowouts are noted, one of which was a Brazilian platform.
There have been about 207 times as many domestic coal mine accidents as domestic offshore blowouts. Where is the outcry to end domestic coal mining? Was it even disrupted after the April 5 mine disaster, to permit Congressional hearings and investigations into new safety regulations required?
The obvious rebuttal is that the environmental impacts, and the resultant impact on livelihoods generated by our oceans, are greater with oil rig accidents that result in spills than are the impact of coal mine disasters. While not belittling that fact, and the negative impact on the ecosystems, loss of human life is important, too.
But the issue of offshore exploration is not solely a domestic one. Of the five worst such disasters prior to Macondo, only two involved US companies. The worst by far, the Sedco 135F and the IXTOC-1 Well, operated by Mexico’s PEMEX, released more oil than all the others combined.
The alternative to domestic exploration and production is to import oil from other countries, where in many cases safety and environmental concerns weigh far less than they do here. Transporting that oil to the United States must generally be done in tankers, and as NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration reports,
…tanker accidents have been the cause of most of the very largest oil spills. The Oil Spill Intelligence Report analysts also have found that of the 66 spills in which at least 10 million gallons (34,000 tonnes) of oil were lost, 48 were from tankers. Eight were from fixed facilities, especially storage tanks, five were from production oil wells, three were from pipelines, and two were from other kinds of cargo vessels.
The ongoing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is tragic. Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of those lost or injured, and to those in ancillary and unrelated industries whose livelihood is threatened. But to halt domestic offshore exploration and production exposes us to greater environmental risk, greater risk of price volatility, and greater dependency on nations who love our money but hate our principles. Despite the risks, of which we now have a heightened awareness, we must continue to drill.