Oil RigThe sun may finally be setting on the age of careless drilling.Photo courtesy of BP America via flickr

In the Gulf of Mexico, now there actually is a sheriff in town. For decades the oil and gas guys pretty much called the shots, with federal regulators impersonating rubber stamps. Make that rubber stamps with benefits. But yesterday the Interior Department made it clear that it’s done being a pushover; deepwater wells will no longer get a pass when it comes to environmental reviews.

Who’s your daddy?: Secretary Ken Salazar said his Interior Department was banning “categorical exclusions” that let oil companies avoid filing environmental impact statements for new deepwater wells. Over the years, the feds granted hundreds of those exemptions to oil companies, including one for the Deepwater Horizon well that exploded in April. Deepwater’s permits actually relied on exemptions granted by the feds in 1981 and 1986. Based on promises that a blowout was unlikely, the deadly project sailed through.

Big Oil is already in full whine about the new rules, claiming they’ll cost companies a lot of time and money, and make it harder for the U.S. to compete with big foreign oil producers, yada-yada. But today’s Wall Street Journal offers a cautionary tale by Ben Casselman about an oil rig mishap in the North Sea that occurred four months before the explosion in the Gulf. The incident was serious enough for the rig’s owner, Transocean, which also owned the Deepwater Horizon, to hold a conference call with the managers of its 150 rigs around the world and follow up with memos warning them: “Do not be complacent.” Casselman writes:  

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Near misses happen throughout the drilling industry and are a more common occurrence than industry backers often acknowledged before the April 20 accident … In 2009, there were six “losses of well control” — the first step toward a possible blowout — in the Gulf of Mexico alone, according to federal data.

The Big Queasy: More sobering Gulf news came yesterday from a team of Georgia scientists. Their research shows as much as 79 percent of the leaked oil is still floating in the Gulf. That’s three times higher than the estimate the government trotted out earlier this month. Said Charles Hopkinson, one of the Georgia scientists:

One major misconception is that oil that has dissolved into water is gone and, therefore, harmless. The oil is still out there, and it will likely take years to completely degrade.

That news had to make Gulf shrimpers even queasier. Yesterday was the first day of their fall season and while government scientists have assured them that no oil has been found in any Gulf shrimp or fish, they know that all it takes is one shrimp flavored with a little crude to sink their business.

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Take my money and run: More fallout from the failure of the Senate to do anything about climate change or renewable energy: An official from Germany’s Deutsche Bank says it’s bailing on the U.S. and will instead invest its huge pool of green energy money — up to $7 billion — in China or Europe. Here’s what Kevin Parker, head of the Deutsche Asset Management Division, had to say about the U.S.:

They’re asleep at the wheel on climate change, asleep at the wheel on job growth, asleep at the wheel on this industrial revolution taking place in the energy industry.

Kill the electric car … again: Another spin on the struggles of alternative energy in the U.S. comes from Daniel Indiviglio, writing in The Atlantic. He points out that OPEC is more than happy to keep the price of gasoline low for now if it means keeping Americans from flocking to hybrids and electric cars.

Every hybrid, plug-in, and electric vehicle sold means fewer gallons of oil burnt … But if the gas price remains low for too long, consumers may not embrace the new technology, because it’s just so expensive. As a result, in the short term, lower gas prices might make OPEC very better off, if they kill a revolution for electric cars, fuel cell technology, or other novel approaches to engines needing little or no gasoline.

I knew the sun has something to do with it: A lot of stupid things get said when Congress is in session. Even more stupid things get said when election campaigns get rolling. Take this nugget from Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican running for the Senate against incumbent Democrat Russell Feingold. The incredible thing about Johnson’s comments is that they weren’t made in a private meeting with campaign supporters. No, Johnson was talking to the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel when he said the following:

“I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change. It’s not proven by any stretch of the imagination … It’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity or just something in the geologic eons of time.”

He also explained that excess carbon dioxide “gets sucked down by trees and helps the trees grow.”

Sounds like he needs to suck down a little more oxygen.