Updates to add detail on Obama administration changes in off-shore oil drilling oversight.
A month of oil spewing from a hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico has made clear that we have not moved beyond petroleum.
So much for a decade's worth of PR trying to persuade the world to forget that the "P" in BP stands for "Petroleum." (I'm sure many folks in the U.K. would also like us all to forget that the "B" stands for "British" too).No matter. BP's alternative energy campaign went down with its ship, but nothing else has changed. Despite endless television coverage and oil spill pictures splattered across the Web, the global pursuit of oil continues unabated. Other off-shore drillers such as ConocoPhillips (COP) remain excited about wildcatting opportunities in the ocean, according to a Bloomberg report. A separate Reuters report today says that Shell (RDS.A) plans to drill exploratory wells off Alaska this summer. I don't blame BP and other oil companies for chasing the oil. Nor do I blame BP's partner Transocean (RIG) for being so enthralled with offshore drilling that it has grown into the largest in the business. These companies - and all the others like them -- are just responding to demand. Globally, we are so hooked on oil that we are willing to drill so deep in the ocean that people can't even go down to fix a massive leak. Turns out the experts who invented this fine technology got ahead of their own ability to manage the realities of deep-sea drilling. Here in the U.S., we are so hooked on oil that the phrase "energy independence" has been translated by both former President George W. Bush and current President Barack Obama as a motive to drill for oil on our own shores so we don't have to import as much. So far, all Obama has been able to muster is a little populist outrage and today's announcement about a minor overhaul of the regulatory system, with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar replacing the Minerals Management Service with a new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a new Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and a new Office of Natural Resources Revenue. Those musical chairs don't represent a policy shift -- creating those agencies just shows that the Obama administration intends to allow ocean drilling to go on, albeit with some additional oversight for good measure. A disaster of this size could have been a catalyst for a bigger policy change, but no one in Washington wants to go against Big Oil. Even the smallest measure that might interrupt our oil exploration and extraction gets mired in endless debate that preserves the status quo. Just yesterday, a Senate oil spill bill bombed for a second time.
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