- American dream dying, but many see free market as solution: Poll
- Air Force base in South Carolina boots Nativity scene
- Israel poised for a $173M boost from the U.S. for missile defense
- Leon Panetta named as source of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ scriptwriter’s information
- Mandela service sign language interpreter: ‘He made up his own signs’
- Pope Francis named Time’s ‘Person of the Year’
- Ben Affleck: Fundraising for Democrats started to ‘feel gross’
- Vladimir Putin orders military to boost presence in Arctic
- Brooklyn, N.Y.: ‘Lesbian capital’ of the Northeast
- Elian Gonzalez: It’s America’s fault that my mother died
Heavy liability could sink small oil drillers
Bill puts American businesses at risk
One of the biggest of the big oil companies may be responsible for the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, but Washington’s response to the BP PLC spill would give an advantage to such major oil companies while threatening to put their small competitors out of business.
Energy legislation that Senate leaders said they may take up this week would sharply raise or eliminate a $75 million cap on oil company liability for economic damage from spills — a change that poses no great threat to giants like BP, which is setting aside $10 billion out of its huge profits and assets to pay for claims related to the spill and has already paid out billions.
But opening up smaller companies to large or unlimited liability would make it prohibitively expensive for them to get the insurance they need to drill and would force many of them out of the deep-water drilling business, analysts say. Even some major oil companies might see open-ended liability in America’s famously litigious society as a reason not to drill in U.S. waters again.
“This would effectively eliminate deep-water drilling in the Gulf and send oil companies to other countries to do the drilling,” said Andrew B. Busch, global strategist at BMO Capital Markets, speaking of Senate and White House proposals to drop the liability cap that was established after the last major oil spill by the Exxon Valdez tanker in Alaska in 1989.
“While it may be seen as a good thing until safety precautions can be proven for this type of drilling,” he said, “the U.S. runs the risk of losing a large source of energy that is not coming from a foreign source.”
The potential for wiping out independent wildcatters and other small operators — which make up the majority of U.S. oil firms — is not entirely unintentional.
White House officials and some members of Congress have suggested that given the risks of huge spills, as demonstrated by the Macondo disaster, perhaps it would be best to limit drilling to those companies that can more easily shoulder the enormous costs of cleanup.
“Many in the current administration and congressional leadership have indicated that it is perfectly acceptable to reduce the number of oil and gas exploration companies to those judged to be big enough to pay,” said David Welch of the National Ocean Industries Association.
An unlimited liability cap, along with measures in the Senate legislation that would dramatically increase financial responsibility requirements on companies bidding for Gulf of Mexico leases, would “without a doubt, result in many companies being no longer able to stay in business,” he said. That will lead to “more and more jobs lost and less energy produced at home.”
A study conducted by the IHS Global Insight forecasting firm found that last year about half of the 400,000 oil and gas jobs in the Gulf of Mexico were at independent oil firms. If all those companies were pushed out of business, the industry would lose about 300,000 jobs in the next decade, while federal and state revenues from oil leasing would drop by $147 billion, it estimated.
“The resulting vacuum would likely be filled only marginally by the major oil companies, if at all, and the loss of independents could actually precipitate a decline in activity by majors,” because the independents play an important role in joint exploration and development projects with larger firms, the study said.
While they often team up with big oil companies on deep-water projects, small, independent companies predominate in the extraction of oil from the shallow waters of the Gulf, where there has not been a major spill in 50 years of drilling.
The yield from wells in the largely tapped-out shallow waters is so low that most major oil companies are not interested in drilling there. BP and other big companies are interested primarily in the big, deep-water fields, where the potential for revenue and profit is higher.
Samuel H. Gillespie, executive vice president of the independent firm Cobalt International Energy Inc., said he commissioned the IHS economic study because of the widespread view in Washington that “the only people that ought to be drilling out in the Gulf of Mexico in the deep water are the majors,” despite the harm that would do to overall energy production in the United States.
The development has caused considerable alarm among workers in Louisiana and Texas, where many people work for independent firms. But their interests clash with people victimized by the BP spill, who have been pushing for higher payouts and limits on liability.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
- Inconvenient truth: China, developing world now biggest source of greenhouse gases
- U.S. unemployment falls to five-year low of 7 percent; 203K jobs added
- Economic growth jumped to 3.6 percent in summer
- Spending on social welfare rose as economy tanked during recession
- Treasury aims to sell off GM stock by end of year
Latest Blog Entries
By Donald Lambro
Growth spikes are little more than trend-free anomalies
- Teen thugs in DC run wild -- even while wearing GPS ankle bracelets
- New budget accord saves $23 billion -- after $65 billion spending spree
- VEGAS RULES: Harry Reid pushed feds to change ruling for casino's big-money foreigners
- More than a quarter million sign up for Obamacare in November
- Obama takes 'selfie' at Mandela's funeral service
- CARSON: Why did the founders give us the Second Amendment?
- Obama's antics at Nelson Mandela tribute: Jovial conversation, handshake with Raul Castro
- MILLER: Dick Heller challenges D.C.s gun registration, files for summary judgement in Heller II
- Gov't Motors: Obama fudges math on auto bailout, $10.5 billion loss for taxpayers
- FITTON: A closer look at the Benghazi lie
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
All of the world’s problems, solved on your back porch
Human interest stories to feed interest, satisfy curiosity and see outside the box.
Politics, economics, and business from a real world perspective.
News and views on the Civil War.
White House pets gone wild!
Let it snow