Lessons must be learned from oil disaster in Gulf of Mexico

Offshore oil drilling must be made safer for workers and the environment.

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The huge oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, which was gushing 210,000 gallons a day last week, is an environmental disaster.

This disaster has been growing since the oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon, sank into the Gulf over two weeks ago killing 11 workers.

Efforts to shut off, or significantly slow, the leak have been stymied for days although it now looks as if the leak has been capped. Clearly better safety precautions are needed.

That, however, is the case after any disaster. It is nearly impossible to plan for every possible situation so it can be prevented. Yet, when something goes wrong it ultimately becomes a learning experience. Precautions and actions must to taken to reduce the chances it will happen again.

Yet, some are not looking for better and safer ways to drill for oil. Instead, they are pointing to this giant oil leak as proof that off-shore drilling should certainly not be expanded and the current wells should be shut down.

But just a few weeks ago President Obama called for an increase in the supply of domestic oil and for more off-shore drilling, which didn't sell well with environmentalists at that time.

Despite this disaster, we still think Obama is on the right track. The nation needs to ween itself from foreign oil through a long-term energy independence plan. This has to include using more domestic oil to supplement our energy needs while better alternatives are developed.

The Gulf of Mexico accounts for 1.73 million barrels a day, or about one-third of U.S. production.

Yes, drilling off-shore obviously poses risks but those can, and should, be mitigated to protect the environment and those working on the oil rigs.

The companies that operate these rigs want this to occur for moral as well as business reasons.

The private corporations that drill for the oil are taking huge risks as they seek to make big profits. If something goes wrong, those who own and work for the companies must live with the emotional weight of the deaths and the aftermath of the disasters. Beyond that, the companies themselves are at risk.

The British oil company, BP LLC, could potentially be ruined by this disaster. The costs are mounting daily.

But, to the company's credit, it has accepted "absolute responsibility" for stopping the leak, cleaning up the oil on the water's surface and any environmental damage resulting from the spill.

"This is not our accident but it's our responsibility," said BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, noting the rig that exploded and sank was owned and operated by a different corporation. The oil, however, is owned by BP and this is why the company is accepting responsibility.

The company is self-insured, which means its future might be in doubt because of this disaster.

This ongoing situation in the Gulf of Mexico must be used as a learning experience to improve offshore oil drilling and make it safer.

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