The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from a collapsed offshore drilling rig could affect White House plans to extend offshore drilling, press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged as the oil slick threatened onshore sites from the Louisiana wetlands to the Sarasota beaches and disrupted fishing and energy industries.
As oil giant BP mobilized resources to try to stop the leak and to mitigate its damage, President Barack Obama called the spill “potentially unprecedented environmental disaster.”
However, some critics charged that the administration’s slow response to the rig accident and Obama’s decision to take part in the humorous proceedings at the White House Correspondents Dinner as the disaster unfolded has been as bad as the Bush administration’s sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding of New Orleans.
Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson called on Obama to impose an immediate moratorium on offshore oil exploration. “Until we learn what happened, I’m asking that you also call for an immediate halt to test wells and all other exploratory operations in coastal waters,” Nelson wrote in a letter to the president.
Nelson also said he was filing legislation to block the Interior Department from going ahead with the White House plans to lease further sites for offshore exploration.
Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner asked in a blog whether the oil spill from Deepwater Horizon might be for the offshore oil industry what the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant was for the nuclear industry – stopping further development dead in its tracks.
“Could the Gulf disaster be just the kind of tragic, visible, easy-to-comprehend event that crystallizes the already-growing rush to de-petroleum our economy?” asks Dubner, who popularized behavioural economics with his book. “As we’ve seen before, public sentiment can generate an awful lot of energy on its own, for better or worse.”
The oil slick posed a more immediate disruption to the U.S. energy industry, as it threatened to close shipping lanes to oil imports destined for Gulf coast refineries and forced the evacuation of other oil and natural gas drilling rigs, sometimes with a shutdown in production. For now, the main pass into the Mississippi delta, the Southwest Pass, remains free.
By. Darrell Delamaide for OilPrice.com