A Second Oil Explosion in the Gulf

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico should have been enough to spur policymakers to invest in renewable energy and emissions reduction programs, encouraging a new wave of low-carbon innovation. Yet just in case there was any doubt that oil spills and other accidents are not a freak occurrence, but rather an unavoidable consequence of drilling for oil, maybe today’s reports of a second oil drilling platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico will drive the message home.

Proving BP is not the only oil company prone to accidents, the drilling platform in question this time belongs to the Houston-based company Mariner Energy. The accident occurred sometime this morning, perhaps as a result of a natural gas explosion that set the drilling platform on fire. There’s at least one piece of good news, in that all thirteen people working on the platform were rescued; this contrasts with the BP platform explosion earlier this year, which killed eleven people. It’s unknown so far how great the environmental damage will be, but clearly the oil drilling industry has not learned much from this spring’s BP disaster.

Today’s accident calls into question the assertions of political figures like Sarah Palin, who claim shallow-water oil drilling is significantly safer than drilling in deep waters like those where the BP spill occurred. The Mariner Energy platform was located closer to shore and in much shallower water than the infamous BP drilling site.

The explosion also highlights the consequences of the federal government failing to act in the wake of the BP spill. Environmental groups and clean energy entrepreneurs hoped the BP spill would prompt Congress to pass sweeping clean energy and carbon emissions standards this summer, but these efforts stalled in the US Senate. Astoundingly, conservative Democrats then joined nearly all Republican senators in ensuring that not even a basic oil spill-response bill designed to reduce the risk of such accidents happening again was able to move forward.

Today we’ve seen the true consequences of failing to crack down on the oil industry. Meanwhile, as clean energy project installations slow in the US, it’s become clear failure to pass national renewable energy standards will slow the creation of green jobs and contribute to economic malaise. Twitter is already teaming with comments on today’s oil platform explosion, many criticizing the failure of leaders in both political parties to learn from the BP experience. A memorable tweet from 350.org reads, “Nature to USA, ‘Didn't get the message the first time? Here, I'll blow up another oil rig for you.’”

It’s unclear whether this new explosion will result in another major oil leak into the Gulf, but the Coast Guard has already reported a mile-long sheen of oil spreading out from the site of the accident. US oil addiction is still endangering the environment and the lives of workers—and tragically, our leaders seem determined to learn this lesson the hard way.

Photo credit: WDSU.com

Nick Engelfried is a freelance writer on climate and energy issues, and works with campuses and communities in the Pacific Northwest to reduce the causes of climate change.