It is always nice when center-left or left-wing publication engage in some truth-telling. From the Economist magazine, a few facts:
The Gulf of Mexico accounts for almost a third of America's oil production and the lion's share of new discoveries. Most dry land has been picked over, and better technology allows exploration in ever deeper waters. Elsewhere too, Western oil firms are being forced offshore as nationalist governments curtail their involvement in big, easily tapped fields on land. The Gulf of Mexico and the waters off Africa and Brazil are among the most enticing prospects to which they still have access. If Americans do not want to hand even more money and clout to the likes of Iran, Russia and Venezuela, the argument runs, they should not curb offshore drilling. Even if they do, rising oil powers such as Angola and Brazil are not going to follow suit.
Moreover, in America at least, oil firms have been reasonable stewards of the seas. Before Deepwater Horizon foundered there had not been a big leak from an offshore oil well for 40 years. Average annual spills from underwater pipelines declined from 2.5m gallons in 1980-84 to just 12,000 gallons in 2000-04, according to the Congressional Research Service. America's National Research Council reckons that offshore drilling accounts for 1% of the oil floating in the country's waters, and tankers and pipelines only a further 4%, compared with 33% from other shipping and 62% from natural seepage (though the industry's spills are more concentrated, and so more harmful). As the fleet of 200 ships battling the slick shows, oil firms have elaborate plans to mop up leaks.
We should endeavor to keep some perspective on the situation in the Gulf of Mexico. We are there because much more readily available sources of energy on-land are off limits due to partisan politics and the zealotry of environmental advocates. A small footprint of land in Alaska (ANWR) cannot be developed right now because of scare stories -- similar to the scare stories involving North Slope development that kept that treasure away from America for many years (Exxon Valdez was a problem but would not have happened had an oil pipeline been allowed to have been built that would obviated the need for seaborne transport).
Nuclear reactor development was halted in its tracks because of non-fatal mishap at Three Mile Island, requiring more dirty coal-fired electrical plants. Even now, a vast domestic natural resources -- clean-burning shale gas -- faces restrictions from the Obama administration as the EPA seeks to expand its tentacles over that purely land-based resource.
Zealots on the left ignore these facts, as have their handmaidens in the media and Congress. That is why it is especially commendable when we see magazines such as the Economist leak some facts out to the rest of us.