Oil Spill Inspires Change

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

The British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has filled the news recently, on the local level as well as the international. Laws are being questioned, government agencies rethought, and public opinions being changed. When the horrible event is behind us, hopefully some positive change can come from it.

The biggest impact that is currently being felt in the industrial-political field is the ban of oil drilling in the United States and Canada. Soon after the original explosions and fire consumed the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, US president Barack Obama put a hold on all future drilling projects. This shutdown was accompanied by mandatory inspections of all existing platforms. One of the biggest problems that has lead to the current tragedy has been the failure of safety mechanisms. The BP drilling rig was outfitted with fail-safe valves to cut off the flow of oil in the event of an accident or equipment failure, unfortunately it failed as well, leading to the continued disaster.

Changes to future drilling operations have also occurred in Canada, particularly in the east. The oil rich areas around George’s Banks, the valuable fishing area split between Canada and the United States, have been given even stronger protection against drilling. The government of Nova Scotia passed a bill extending the ban on oil drilling in Georges Bank from 2012 to 2015. In addition, the US ban mentioned previously protects the US portion of the area until 2017. The oil spill appears to be forcing politicians to realize the dangers posed by oil drilling, and recognize the valuable ocean environments that support us as well as the natural ecosystem.

The United States will also be seeing changes in the way its federal agency overseeing oil drilling. The current agency is responsible for monitoring and regulating the oil industry, as well as collecting royalties from the same companies. For a long time this set-up has drawn criticism from US lawmakers and environmental groups for the high potential for bribery. While it seems obvious now that having one agency responsible for regulating and fining oil companies while simultaneously tasked with keeping the flow of oil into the country and the royalty fees steady, the oil spill has now brought this oversight to light. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has stated that the current agency will be split into two separate agencies, one responsible for monitoring and regulating, and the other for leasing and collecting royalties.

The most intangible change is to the public opinion of offshore oil drilling, which has definitely come across as the villain over the past month. People, and politicians have laid the blame for the accident on British Petroleum, who has blamed Transocean Ltd (the owner of the drilling platform), who has blamed Halliburton Co, the one who was operating the platform. As company executives point the finger at each other in an attempt to save face and stock value, the public opinion on offshore oil continues to get blacker.

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