By Michelle Reed, Production Assistant
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred after the April 20 explosion of BP’s Macondo well has become much more than a natural disaster, it has become a historical event, and for Tyler Priest, director of Global Studies at the University of Houston and newly appointed senior policy analyst for the President’s National Commission on the oil spill, historical knowledge of offshore drilling might be the key to saving Houston’s energy industry.
“As someone who has long studied the history of oil in South Louisiana and offshore Gulf of Mexico, I feel an obligation to make sense of these events and make sure that we do the right thing as a nation going forward,” Priest said in an e-mail.
In early August, Priest was asked by friend and colleague Jay Hakes, a research director for the commission and the former advisor to the Secretary of Interior Cecil Andrus during the Carter Administration to testify during the commission’s second meeting.
“He invited me to come to Washington to brief the commissioners on aspects of the history of offshore drilling and testify on the history of federal oversight of offshore oil, alongside three former directors of the Minerals Management Service,” Priest said.
Priest’s knowledge of offshore history proved to the commission’s staff that a historian could be beneficial to its reports.
“The research and investigative work conducted by the commission is essentially historical, looking at how technology, federal regulation, and environmental impacts have evolved over time in order to identify what kind of changes need to be made (in) the way we manage offshore oil,” Priest said. “My role is to provide historical background and analysis to commissioners as they develop their recommendations.”
Houston’s energy industry has suffered many drawbacks since the oil spill. One of the drawbacks included the loss of thousands of jobs from the 6 month moratorium placed on offshore drilling by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in late April.
“A lot of people have been hurt by this disaster and the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico that followed,” Priest said.
Despite concerns about offshore drilling in the Gulf, in which Priest says could stem from insecurities felt after the Santa Barbara blowout of 1969 when an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil escaped into the channel and onto the beaches in Southern California, the Gulf Coast’s opinion on offshore drilling is different.
“Oil and gas is part of this region’s culture and heritage. Most people here are ready to green light deep-water drilling again,” Priest said.
The Obama Administration has seemed to have recognized that in order for the Gulf to thrive, the moratorium must be lifted. On Tuesday, Salazar announced that the moratorium had been lifted and that in order to promote stronger safety regulations, operators now have to comply with tougher rules. These rules include making operators show that their proposed development and exploration plans can deal with blowouts and undergo detailed inspections, Michael Bromwich the head of the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling said in a CNN article.
“The deep-water drilling suspension was always about keeping the Gulf workers and waters safe from another oil spill, and it has been effective in doing so,” Democratic Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts said in the article. “The new rules that the Interior Department has issued will help ensure that if oil companies are going to drill ultra-deep, they are doing so in a manner that is ultra-safe.”
With the improvement on offshore drilling safety, the energy industry needs to work on improving its relationship with a healthier environment in the city of Houston.
“There is quite a lot we can accomplish to reduce our ‘carbon footprint’ simply by using fewer hydrocarbons and using them efficiently,” Priest said. “The transition away from hydrocarbons as our main transportation fuel and key source of power will take a while. But as a nation and global society, we should consider developing all forms of energy especially those forms that are less harmful to the planet.”
Note: The views expressed in this entry do not represent the views of Houston PBS.