Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill? What Oil Spill?

| by NRDC
By Pete Altman
Climate Campaign Director, Washington, D.C.

As oil gushed out of an underwater oil well ruptured by a deadly explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) published an essay on April 26 by AEI scholar Steven Hayward that called the environmental threats from off shore oil "largely obsolete."

And no, that’s not out of context. Here is the full paragraph:

The two main reasons oil and other fossil fuels became environmentally incorrect in the 1970s--air pollution and risk of oil spills--are largely obsolete. Improvements in drilling technology have greatly reduced the risk of the kind of offshore spill that occurred off Santa Barbara in 1969. There hasn't been a major drilling related spill since then, though shipping oil by tanker continues to be risky, as the Exxon Valdez taught us. To fear oil spills from offshore rigs today is analogous to fearing air travel now because of prop plane crashes in the 1950s.

Subtle spill?

You’ve just got to wonder about these ‘scholars’ sometimes. By the 26th, the Deepwater Horizon had already exploded and sank, 11 workers had died, and a mile-deep oil leak began spewing what is now known to be 5,000 barrels a day into the Gulf of Mexico. Given Hayward is publishing on websites – AEI’s, the Pacific Research Institute’s and the Weekly Standard’s – you’d think he might have been able to update his essay (or thinking) a bit.

But Hayward is connected with institutions that spend a lot of time making the case for polluters and against clean energy. I’ve previously blogged that Hayward and another AEI colleague were exposed two years ago for trying to pay IPCC scientists $10,000 to criticize the IPCC findings. Hayward is also a director of the oil-industry-alumni-staffed Institute for Energy Research (IER), a “think-tank” run by former Koch Industries and oil lobbyist Thomas Pyle. IER has of late specialized in bashing clean energy, calling it a 'dirty lie.’

Now the dirty mess in the Gulf is re-exposing the very real risks of offshore oil drilling. As the oily slick from the sunken Deepwater Horizon grows daily, Gulf coast residents and the rest of the nation are watching, wondering whether the Coast Guard’s desperate last-ditch effort to control the slick by setting it on fire will save the fishing grounds, shores and economy of the Mississippi Delta.

While the images of the burning rig and spreading slick have already been enough to cause Democratic and Republican officials to question whether offshore oil drilling is really such a good idea, they apparently aren’t enough to persuade the dirty-energy advocates at AEI and IER. 

This piece appeared on NRDC's Switchboard.