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Congress taking wrong approach to risk reduction

Bob Tippee

By what should be the overarching goal of political response to the Gulf of Mexico tragedy, congressional leaders are performing thoroughly.

The goal should be to lower the risks that anything like the blowout of the deepwater Maconda well off Louisiana can happen again.

Congressional proposals surely would lower risks. But they’d do so by strangling oil and gas drilling off the US.

Wells not drilled can’t blow out. But they produce no oil or gas, employ no one, and generate no income for workers, company owners, or taxing authorities.

Instead of focusing on procedures and safety, Congress proposes to stifle activity crucial to national energy and economic interests.

A bill passed by the House on July 30 and one introduced in the Senate on July 27 would remove liability limits on damage from future oil spills.

It didn’t matter to the 209 representatives who voted for the measure that an existing limit hasn’t been a factor in BP’s response to the mess its well caused.

With their solution to a nonexistent problem, the lawmakers would shoo from the OCS all but the largest operators.

And companies not discouraged by limitless liability would face new costs under the House bill, including higher spill-fund fees and penalties on leases not producing commercially.

The House bill also would further destabilize the US fiscal regime by rescinding royalty relief for production from deep water and from deep gas wells in shallow water.

As an approach to risk reduction, drilling curtailment is disastrous.

That Democrats have followed it for crudely political reasons becomes clear in statements such as this, from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland: “These measures were a test of whether members of Congress stand with taxpayers and with gulf communities or with the oil companies. Republicans’ votes against these bills made their choice very clear.”

So the question is not why some lawmakers are moving to curtail drilling off the US. The question is how they can be so irresponsible.

(Online Aug. 2, 2010; author’s e-mail:

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