NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Why It's Safer to Drill in the Backyard

October 7, 2010

As we look back at the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it is time to ask why we are drilling in such risky places when there is oil available elsewhere.  The answer lies in the mantra NIMBY -- "not in my backyard," says Terry Anderson, the executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana.

  • Because most private lands have been explored, public lands offer the most potential for oil and gas development.
  • However, the NIMBY principle has significantly restricted development on those lands.
  • According to 2008 Energy Department figures, nearly 80 percent of potentially oil-rich offshore lands are off limits to oil and gas development, as are 60 percent of onshore lands.

Whether more exploration on federal lands would make the United States energy independent is debatable, but more onshore development would certainly be safer, says Anderson.  

  • In early June, there was a blowout in western Pennsylvania. Did you see it on the nightly news? No, because it was capped in sixteen hours.
  • The Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates oil and gas production there, recorded 102 blowouts of oil and gas wells since the start of 2006, resulting in 10 fires, 12 injuries and two deaths. None of those made the nightly news, either.
  • The largest oil spill on Alaska's North Slope in 2006 was from a pipeline leak. It dumped only 6,357 barrels and had no disastrous impacts. (By comparison, by the start of July the gulf oil spill had surpassed 2 million barrels.)

Enforcement of stricter safety regulation on deepwater drilling may reduce disasters like the recent one in the gulf.  But the only real way to reduce the risk of catastrophic spills is to say yes to drilling in our backyard.

Source: Terry Anderson, "Why It's Safer to Drill in the Backyard," Hoover Digest, September 29, 2010.

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