After I wrote my Spill Baby Spill post, some people accused me of using a straw-man argument when writing that the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe doesn’t invalidate the premise of supporters of domestic drilling, and that saying it did is basically the equivalent of saying “Let them eat cake”, because drilling has to happen somewhere.
This week, here’s what Lexington, The Economist‘s pseudonymous America columnist, had to say on the matter this week:
Disasters can be instructive. Both regulators and oil firms will learn useful lessons from the Deepwater Horizon fiasco, and safety will surely improve as a result. But it is easy to learn the wrong lessons, too. After the accident on Three Mile Island in 1979, Americans grew scared of nuclear power and stopped building new reactors, even though no one died in that accident. Had the nation not panicked, it would now have many more nuclear reactors, making the shift to a low-carbon economy significantly easier. Similarly today, panic is likely but unhelpful.
So long as Americans do not reduce their consumption of oil, refusing to drill at home means importing more of the stuff, often from places with looser environmental standards. The net effect is likely to be more pollution, not less. Nigeria, for example, has had a major oil spill every year since 1969, observes Lisa Margonelli of the New America Foundation, a think-tank. (…) oil is both useful and precious. Extracting it domestically, with tougher safety rules, would bring a windfall to a Treasury that sorely needs one.
Couldn’t have put it better.