Safety First

Publication: The Huffington Post

Author: Marilyn Heiman

03/31/2011 - Before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, industry insisted that offshore drilling technology had become so advanced that a blowout was unlikely, if not impossible. Regulators accepted those assurances, and citizens had few tools with which to verify them. As a result, safety officials could not do what was necessary to prevent a catastrophic oil spill, and the Gulf of Mexico and its communities will suffer for decades.

In hundreds of less dramatic and less publicized accidents—like last summer's pipeline spill that dumped 850,000 gallons of crude oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River—the lessons are the same. They tell us over and over again that we need to have strong safety standards, diligent oversight and tested response plans.

Before this country even thinks of expanding drilling in the remote and fragile Arctic Ocean, for example, reforms must ensure that oil companies can respond to significant spills in ice, hurricane-force winds, stormy seas and long periods of fog and darkness.

The United States should aspire to be the world's leader in safe drilling standards, prevention and response. Despite some good first steps by the Obama administration, we're not there yet. And sadly, as we approach the one-year anniversary of Deepwater Horizon, Congress still hasn't passed major legislative reforms to prevent another offshore catastrophe.

It takes only one accident to cause untold human, economic and environmental damage—as we've seen, in one incident after another. Oversight agencies need the tools, the financial resources and the political support to regulate these complex industries and ensure that complacency does not set in.

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