The Deepwater Horizon disaster spewing raw crude oil into the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico points out the problem with allowing private enterprise lead in developing cutting edge technology in energy or any other critical commodity. As we have seen, a massive failure can bring a nation to its knees and arouse public opinion on a grand scale. The BP spill is to the oil industry what Chernobyl was to Russia’s nuclear energy program. Chernobyl, with the catastrophic pile meltdown and fire that killed hundreds and sickened thousands over a generation came about a decade after our own near miss nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. The major difference between the U.S. experience and Russia’s is that the reactor containment at Three Mile Island worked.
The Deepwater Horizon was built in a South Korean shipyard. It was owned and operated by Transocean, a Swiss company. Are bells going off anywhere? Are the warning lights flashing, America? The Jones Act is an 80-year-old law that requires ships engaged in commerce in the US coastal trade to be built in the US, owned by US owners and have US crews. This is the US Merchant Marine. In hearings into the cause of the explosions and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, Congressman Gene Taylor specifically asked the Obama Administration to invoke the Jones Act for all the oil and gas drilling in the Gulf.
The other two corporate entities implicated in the Gulf disaster were Haliburton, now headquartered in Dubai; and BP, incorporated in the UK and headquartered in London.
We have a shortage of naval shipbuilding work to keep our six major U.S. shipyards in business. There is a discussion about Avondale Shipyard of New Orleans— one of only six major US Shipyards, being sold or closed, Avondale and its sister shipyard, Ingalls, located some 120 miles away in Pascagoula, Mississippi, are the two largest private employers in Louisiana and Mississippi. Both yards are capable of building complex combat vessels for the U.S. Navy, and that has been their forte.
Avondale has built commercial ships, including double hulled oil tankers for the US Alaskan oil trade after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Prince William Sound. No one has designed and built deep water equipment for a disaster like the BP Deepwater Horizon. Why not? Why doesn’t the US government develop the design and build the safety equipment necessary to cap runaway oil well in deepwater? No one can argue we don’t need it. We could put thousands of the people who live in the area being slimed by the oil spill tomorrow morning to work building this equipment. The people directly affected would have a stake in the development and construction of the equipment that would protect their very way of life and their quality of life.
With BP’s oil billowing into the waters of the Gulf, whose job is it to staunch the flow? Americans and the press are badgering the federal government to “do something” about it, but the federal government doesn’t have the technology because it hasn’t ever focused on a problem of this dimension. Until now, it was the domain of private industry. Well, that hasn’t worked out so well now, has it?
If we want bold decisive action to plug the hole and stop the oil spewing into the Gulf- this is it! Turn American ingenuity loose and give American shipbuilders the job of designing and building the deep water disaster response for this and similar drilling disasters just waiting to happen in our costal waters. Saying this will never happen again is sticking our head in the sand and ignoring the facts that say otherwise. This challenge is an opportunity for success, let’s get started!