- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Gulf oil spill should not recede from the headlines without further attention to how President Obama continues to punish the victims. His moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is unreasonable and unconscionable.

Mr. Obama says the six-month ban on drilling is needed to buy time to investigate what caused the blowout, strengthen oversight and issue new regulations. This is nonsense. Copious investigation already has shown that a series of specific decisions and errors combined to cause the BP well to explode. Few details remain unanswered. Few if any new regulations are needed; the problem was in the failure to abide by existing regulations. Oversight at the Minerals Management Service (MMS) was extremely lax. It shouldn’t take six days, much less six months, to make MMS actually do its job.

Meanwhile, the detrimental effects of the moratorium are serious. “In its first six months, the moratorium could cost the Gulf Coast 8,169 jobs, $2.1 billion in economic activity and $98 million in state and local tax revenue,” reported the New Orleans Times-Picayune, relying on a July 19 study by Louisiana State University professor Joseph Mason. “Nationwide, it could cost 12,046 jobs, $2.8 billion in economic activity and $219 million in tax revenue.”

The indirect effects could be far worse, especially for the people of Louisiana who are still struggling to recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Ike and Gustav in 2008. The oil industry at least indirectly supports 320,000 jobs in the Pelican State alone, according to former Democratic Rep. Chris John, who now heads a Louisiana oil-and-gas association. And it’s not really unsafe. “We’ve drilled 42,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico since 1947, including 2,500 in the deep water (more than 1,000 feet),” Mr. John said at a July 30 luncheon sponsored by the Pelican Institute think tank, “and this is the first time anything has happened.”

The Heritage Foundation has sent several teams of analysts to the Gulf to investigate all aspects of the spill. James Carafano, whose expertise is in emergency response, explained to The Washington Times yesterday that if another rig did blow - an extreme statistical unlikelihood - the negative effects would surely be far less than in the BP spill. “We’ve just gotten a Ph.D. in oil spills,” he said. “So if God forbid something did happen now, we’ve never been so prepared in history to deal with an oil spill in the Gulf.”

The administration’s dithering made the crisis worse, which won’t prove to be the full extent of the damage caused to the region by the White House. Mr. Obama’s moratorium will have the added effect of harming the very environment he claims to be protecting. “Royalties from offshore drilling in Louisiana are designated by the state constitution to pay for critical infrastructure protection and coastal restoration,” wrote the Heritage Foundation’s Rory Cooper last month. “The longer this drilling moratorium continues, the longer Louisiana has to wait to protect itself from future disasters.”

Two lawsuits against the moratorium are pending, both with a reasonable chance to succeed. The president should make the suits moot by lifting his order. Only then will the people of the Gulf Coast begin to recover from the double whammy of BP incompetence and federal ineptitude.