The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a tragic reminder that human progress is not without risk.
Offshore drilling is no exception. As I wrote in "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less in 2008:"
“the truth is that we can produce more American energy and do it responsibly. Of course, we will not – and cannot – eliminate all risk of harm to the environment as we produce more energy. All energy sources have risks, but the key is to take measures to minimize them.”
Americans who support expanding American energy should always demand the strictest measures to minimize the risks to human life and the environment. And now, with the tragic deaths of 11 oil rig workers from the explosion on April 20, and the significant environmental damage that is unfolding in the Gulf region, it is time for the Obama administration to call for an independent commission to investigate the following: what caused this accident, the effectiveness of the industry, governmental disaster preparedness and response and how future drilling operations will be improved. Even though the rig was owned and operated by a private contractor and the cause of the explosion and equipment failure is not yet known, British Petroleum has rightly taken responsibility and pledged to pay for the Gulf spill’s cleanup.
The American model of responding to disasters is to investigate the cause, fix the problem, and move forward with a safer system than before. The answer to this crisis is not to move backward by halting new American offshore energy production.
In 1956 and 1958, tragic airline collisions above the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and Maine resulted in the creation of the Federal Aviation Administration, which dramatically improved flight safety through enhanced technology. The response was not to abandon all future passenger flights.
After the 1979 incident at Three Mile Island nuclear plant, an independent commission was appointed to exhaustively investigate the cause of that event. The response was not to abandon nuclear power, which produces 20% of electricity in the United States.
After the levees failed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, an independent investigation determined that new levees should have specific engineering upgrades, more erosion protection, and that there should be better communication between the federal and local governments. The response was not to force residents to abandon New Orleans forever.
And one year after the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act, which provided money and resources for future oil spills, including the creation of a trust fund to assist future cleanup efforts. Again, the response was to work harder to prevent future disasters, not to abandon American energy.
America always responds to crises with appropriate vigor. After an independent commission investigates the cause of this oil spill, we as a nation should implement the proper measures to protect against future disasters to become the safest place for energy development in the world.
Those who favor offshore development must respond with greater intensity to investigate the facts and move forward with a safer system than those who oppose development and have the luxury of unthinking opposition with no responsibility and accountability for the economic and national security consequences.
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Newt Gingrich, a Republican, was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999, and is the author of the new novel “Duplicity."