First we saw interview after interview with out-of-work fishermen and shrimpers. Now we’re hearing from oil-rig workers. Jobs are the trump card of political debate in America these days and, not surprisingly, that card is now being deftly played by critics of the Obama administration’s six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Feel our pain: Drilling proponents arguing for a temporary injunction against the ban say it could cost more than 10,000 people their jobs if you count everyone on shore whose income is linked to the 33 affected deepwater rigs. Government attorneys counter that until they know what caused the Deepwater Horizon explosion, they can’t risk another underwater blowout. A federal judge will decide today or tomorrow whether to grant the temporary injunction. [UPDATE: On Tuesday, the judge granted the injunction and blocked the ban.]
Did we mention jobs? Gulf Coast media are chiming in with stories about the moratorium’s ripple effect through local economies and scientists who think the moratorium goes too far. The New Orleans Times-Picayune recently weighed in with an editorial suggesting that for all his public sympathy for Gulf workers, Barack Obama is guilty of “myopia”:
President Obama has not heeded the voices urging him to reconsider the scope of the moratorium. Those include engineering and oil industry experts consulted by the administration, who are calling the broad moratorium a mistake that could cause more harm to the economy than the spill itself. They had endorsed different steps such as a moratorium on new drilling permits. They suggested a briefer halt at existing rigs, so that safety tests could be conducted. That’s still a viable strategy. A more nuanced approach would be far wiser and more compassionate than the punishing shutdown that the White House has ordered.
Not our problem: During his meeting with BP execs last week, Obama did try to get the company to cover lost wages from the drilling moratorium. But, as Jonathan Weisman noted in The Wall Street Journal, BP’s lawyers successfully argued that it shouldn’t be responsible for costs directly related to a government ban. The oil giant eventually agreed to kick in $100 million for Gulf oil workers, in addition to the $20 billion fund to cover spill damages, but that’s probably not enough to cover even a month of lost salaries for rig workers.
Putting the people in petroleum: The oil companies, with help from the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, are building their case that when the feds impose drilling bans or otherwise ratchet up regulations, they end up hurting those previously known as “the small people.” As Elizabeth Williamson points out in The Wall Street Journal:
President Barack Obama’s six-month moratorium on exploratory offshore drilling could strengthen the energy industry’s hand in regulatory battles ahead. The administration says the moratorium is part of a safety review that will “reduce the risk of a second spill by providing the time needed for further investigation.” But in a grassroots effort that reveals the contours of the lobbying battle to come, oil executives and lobbyists point to the moratorium as Exhibit A that more government regulation won’t protect livelihoods in the Louisiana oilfield.
From sea to sheening sea: No matter how the court fight over the Gulf moratorium turns out, the war over deepwater drilling is only going to get uglier. Big Oil is banking on deep-sea exploration to keep the profits rolling in, as Steve Mufson explains in The Washington Post:
Within five years, global deepwater production is expected to rise by two-thirds, to 10 million barrels a day, according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates. That’s equivalent to the amount of crude oil that the world’s largest exporter, Saudi Arabia, produces.
And you thought you’d heard the last of “Drill, baby, drill.”