There is overwhelming agreement that something went terribly wrong with America’s current offshore drilling and leasing process in the wake of the April 20 oil spill off the coast of Louisiana. On Friday, President Obama bluntly said of the situation, “the system failed, and it failed badly.”

Earlier this week oil companies who do business in the Gulf of Mexico endured a sound thrashing from Senators on Capitol Hill seeking answers for what happened.

The motive behind these hearings, which the president deemed a “ridiculous spectacle,” was not nefarious. We should discover exactly what happened and what we can do in the future to make sure it’s never repeated. We should demand an independent investigation, as was done after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, to determine what went wrong and how we can improve drilling in the future.

In fact, after Exxon Valdez, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act which created a new oil spill trust fund to guarantee payment for future spills and smarter contingency planning for responding to future accidents. An investigation today may yield a need to utilize new safety standards and update OPA. After all, available technology today is dramatically different than what it was two decades ago.

But amidst this push for answers we cannot ignore the reality of America’s energy needs. Many lawmakers have lost sight of this and are using the Gulf oil spill as political ammunition to torpedo offshore drilling.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said any new energy bill with expanded offshore drilling provisions would be “dead on arrival” in the wake of the Gulf spill. Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) likened offshore drilling to “Russian roulette”* for America’s beaches. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) asked President Obama, “in light of the devastating BP oil spill,” to remove the Atlantic coast from consideration for offshore drilling.

Their concerns for oil development safety are valid, but their solution is unsound. A recent letter from those Senators to President Obama noted that “the costs and benefits of offshore drilling need to be reassessed.” Such an assessment is necessary, although the Senators won’t like the results. Consider: According to the Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling in the U.S., the Gulf’s 3,500 platforms produce 1.2 million barrels of oil per day, or 30% of all domestic production, and support more than 35,000 jobs.

Put another way, offshore drilling in the Gulf employs the equivalent of a small U.S. city and keeps us from sending an astounding $35 billion every year to countries like Venezuela and Iran.
The current spill will have enormous environmental impacts, but would halting offshore drilling fix that? The National Academy of Sciences found that tankers carrying oil from other countries account for four times as much spillage as offshore platforms, countries on whom we’d have to depend more for our oil. Stopping drilling thus puts the environment in more jeopardy, not less.

It’s also important to note that while many advocates for a “clean energy future” want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil through a panacea of windmills and solar panels, their solution does not work. Wind and solar provide electricity, not transportation fuel, and oil provides only about 1% of America’s electricity.

So what’s the best way to fix the problem? After the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957 and America saw it was losing the space race, the Defense Department created what would become the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to guarantee that America would not lose its technological superiority. Given that where we get our energy constitutes an economic and national security issue, we should tackle this problem in a similar manner by researching and developing the safest drilling technology in the world.

This is how America responds to national crises. We tackle the problem head on, fix it, and move forward. President Obama articulated this perfectly when he acknowledged drilling is part of our energy strategy, and that “our job to make sure this kind of mess doesn’t happen again.” We do not, and should not, stop in our tracks, litigate, and move backward as some in Congress are proposing.

Affordable and reliable energy are requirements for American prosperity, not luxuries that can be abandoned. We should push for safer energy, not zero energy.

Steve Everley is the manager of policy research at American Solutions. Learn more about the organization’s Freedom of Information Act request at www.AmericanSolutions.com.

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