As for the environmental damage caused by Deepwater Horizon, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar deserves commendation for reminding everybody over the weekend that off-shore drilling is remarkably safe considering its scope and importance to the nation. There are presently more than 4,000 active rigs employing an estimated 80,000 people on the U.S. outer continental shelf, with the large majority of those operating in the Gulf of Mexico. Salazar said Sunday on Fox News that more than 30,000 oil and natural gas wells have been drilled in the Gulf, and one-third of the oil and natural gas consumed by the United States is produced there. This means off-shore drilling is now and will remain for the foreseeable future a critically important national resource. The interior secretary also noted that the industry "has been conducted in a very safe manner. Blowouts occur but the safety mechanisms have been in place. Why this failed here is something we are investigating." Amazingly, there have been only 41 deaths and 302 injuries in off-shore platform accidents since 2001, according to federal data. Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled by the Daily Beast reveals that off-shore oil rig jobs aren't among the 10 most dangerous jobs, while fishing, sanitation work, and farming are.
From an environmental perspective, off-shore oil drilling is far safer than Mother Nature. As the Wall Street Journal noted yesterday, oil that seeps naturally from the ocean floor puts 47 million gallons of crude into U.S. waters annually. Thus far, Deepwater Horizon has leaked about three million gallons. That sounds like a lot of oil, and it is. But the Exxon Valdez leaked 11 million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound. Even those figures are dwarfed, according to the Economist, by the amount of oil spilled in man-made disasters elsewhere around the world. Saddam Hussein's destruction of Kuwaiti oil facilities during the Gulf War dumped more than 500 million barrels of crude into the Arabian Gulf. The 1979 blowout of Mexico's Ixtoc 1 well resulted in 3.3 million barrels being dumped into the Gulf of Mexico. In short, Deepwater Horizon is an environmental crisis, but not the apocalypse that alarmists claim.