I haven't written too much about the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster — just one piece admitting to making a bad call on supporting Obama's support of offshore drilling.

It's been such a huge event and there's a new story line nearly as fast as you can refresh your browser. I've been absorbing it all and waiting for the right story line to use to chime in on. I found a good one today while reading an article about oil rig safety: Transocean Ltd., the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig (BP had a relationship to buy their oil), failed to install an acoustically triggered shutoff valve (Cost: $500,000) that could have stopped the flow of the oil. U.S. regulators declined to make the installation of these backup safety valves mandatory, and BP was one of the few that did not voluntarily install it on their rigs.

Norway and Brazil mandate that all oil rigs be equipped with these backup acoustically triggered shutoff valves. Norway in particular is known for its exemplary safety record for oil rigs. Salon's Joe Conason says it's important to note that Norway's main oil company is state-owned and operated and doesn't spend heaps of cash every year to fight government regulation.

Right now officials think that around 5,000 barrels of oil (enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every three days) are pouring out of the broken oil line every day, up from an original estimate of 1,000 barrels. I'm inclined to believe that the real total is much higher than that though, but there is no way we'll ever know the real number — rough estimates are the best we'll ever get.

BP is spending more than $6 million a day in direct cleanup costs. The BP brand is taking a HUGE hit an order of magnitude larger than that, and the eventual bill will easily be well into the hundreds of billions of dollars when all the external factors are considered. (Right now there is no fishing going on in the Gulf and shipping has been disrupted). BP could easily not survive this one.

And it all could have been avoided if they had just installed a half a million dollar piece of equipment. I'm not well-versed enough in oil drilling technology to know if the shutoff valve could have prevented the explosion on the rig that set this chain of events into motion, but I do know that it could have prevented the river of oil that is currently pouring out from the ocean floor right now. With the installation of that football-sized piece of equipment, we would have all read about the tragic sinking of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and by now, two weeks later, forgotten it and moved on to the next big breaking story.

If we're going to drill, baby, drill (and I don't think we should), shouldn't we do it in the absolutely safest way possible? Even if it does cost the oil companies a few extra million in safety measures?

Ironically, if there is any good news in this tragic situation, it could be that this disaster is right on our doorstep. It was terrible when Alaska was coated in Exxon's oil, but it was easier to ignore because it was way up in Alaska. This could be the nasty, terrible, tragic dose of reality that we need to really gain momentum towards clean renewable energy. It's much harder to push out of the news cycle when it has pretty much shut down the entire Gulf of Mexico. This thing is going to be a story for a LONG time to come.


President Obama should make it a national goal and priority to wean the country off oil, coal (don't forget that one), and other dangerous and dirty sources of power. For the good of our nation, for the good of the world, for the good of our unborn successors, we need to stop using this power sources.

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