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Increased safety is needed, but keep offshore drilling

A large explosion occurred on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana on April 20. Fires raged for 36 hours and the rig eventually sank into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday. Eleven men are presumed dead, and the submerged rig is leaking 42,000 gallons of oil per day, according to The Associated Press.

The accident was a great tragedy and a potential environmental disaster. It proves that the oil and natural gas industry is in desperate need of increased safety regulations, but by no means should it spell the end of all attempts to expand offshore drilling.

The U.S. Minerals and Management Service (MMS) reported last year that 1,443 accidents occurred on oil rigs between 2001 and 2007, resulting in 302 injuries and 41 deaths. Drilling for oil – which can be buried under miles of water and earth – is an inherently dangerous endeavor, but that makes safety all the more important.

The MMS analysis found that many of the accidents were caused by communication problems, a lack of written procedures and a failure to enforce current procedures. The MMS was already working on developing new regulations before the disaster, according to the AP.

Before the accident, BP PLC, which operated the rig, was opposed to increased regulation.

“We believe industry’s current safety and environmental statistics demonstrate that the voluntary programs implemented … have been and continue to be very successful,” said Richard Morrison, a vice president of BP America Inc., last year in a letter opposing proposed regulations.

It is time for oil companies like BP to change that attitude if they want the expansion of offshore drilling to continue, per President Barack Obama’s proposal last month.

Surprising environmentalists, Obama announced plans to open up miles of ocean off the East Coast and parts of Alaska to drill. He also wants Congress to lift a drilling ban in the eastern Gulf, an oil-rich area 125 miles off the Florida coast.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs announced Friday that the accident had not changed Obama’s plans.

“We need the increased production,” Gibbs said. “The president still continues to believe the great majority of that can be done safely, securely and without any harm to the environment.”

There are still untapped deposits of oil and natural gas in the Gulf. A group led by McMoRan Exploration Co. announced in January that it had discovered a natural gas deposit with up to 6 trillion cubic feet of gas and a well that may contain billions of gallons of oil.

These deposits won’t last forever, but America will still need oil and gas as it attempts to transition to other forms of energy.