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Louisiana oil rig fire could play role in Virginia drilling debate

Rosalind Helderman

There's no word yet on the cause of Wednesday's explosion on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, where 11 workers are missing.

But the disaster is already affecting the politics of off-shore oil drilling elsewhere, including Virginia.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who has been a leading opponent of coastal drilling, is calling for an investigation into what caused the Louisiana fire.

"The tragedy off the coast of Louisiana shows we need to be asking a lot more tough questions of big oil," Nelson said today, according to the Associated Press. "I think we need to look back over 10 years or so to see if the record denies the industry's claims about safety and technology."

Here in Virginia, where Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has been pushing for the Commonwealth to be the first state on the eastern seaboard to allow drilling, the explosion has sparked a vigorous debate on the blogosphere.

On the left, several bloggers have suggested the Louisiana case is a cautionary tale that should give Virginians pause before proceeding with drilling. ("Coming to VA soon..." was how popular blogger Ben Tribbett posted the item, with a link to a picture of the fiery platform.)

Blogs on the rights have meanwhile accused opponents of exploiting what looks to be a tragedy in Louisiana to push their opposition to driling. J.R. Hoeft over at Bearing Drift accused Tribbett and others of trying to "score political points" off the Louisiana explosion.

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By Rosalind Helderman  |  April 23, 2010; 12:19 PM ET
Categories:  Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman  | Tags: Bill Nelson, Drilling rig, Louisiana, Oil well, Virginia  
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It's not "exploiting" something to try to learn lessons from past things that have gone wrong. Those who try to shut down dialogue by labeling it as "exploiting" are the truly shameless ones, and their position is negligent in the extreme.

Posted by: VirginiaDad | April 23, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

According to the federal Minerals Management Service, as of 2006 there 3858 gas or oil rigs opperating in the Gulf of Mexico. Not counting this most recent disaster there have been only 509 fires and only two fire related deaths and 12 injuries since then. Don't get me wrong its a really dangerous job, all that machinery, lots of moving parts, high pressure volitile substances, but that a really good safety record fo so many rigs. They definitely need to get top the bottom on this lates fire, especially since it was so unusually horrific. But it definitley not the norm for this industry.

Posted by: schnauzer21 | April 23, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

"Burn baby, burn!"

Posted by: kinkysr | April 23, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

It's absolutely exploitative when the initial investigation into what has gone wrong has not even begun and these Democrats are already attempting to use the accident to score cheap political points against the Governor.

These same Democrats have said absolutely nothing about the fact that President Obama himself has promoted offshore drilling recently and is supporting efforts to promote it off Virginia's coastline.

No one is trying to stifle dialogue - primarily because there is no dialogue going on. There is nothing negligent in waiting until we have some actual information about what went wrong in Louisiana before we start changing policy positions in Virginia.

Posted by: DCG65 | April 23, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Citing the Louisiana rig disaster as "exploiting" is such nonsense. Thats's like saying citing the SAnta Barbara oil spill and the Exxon Valdez are "exploiting". Bottom line, even in this day and age, supposedly with all the technological advances, these things can happen. They have to be taken into account when making a decision to open up coastal areas to drilling. Virginia has to weigh the pros and cons of a oil spill washing up on Virginia Beach. What the governor and his GOP "Drill, baby, Drill" allies don't like, is that this disaster puts a lie to their soothing talk about how technology has made oil spills a thing of the past.
That is the genuis of what Obama did with promoting the off shore drilling in these East Coast states. They are for the most part GOP run by the Drill,baby, Drill crowd. If they drill and there are no accidents the country benfits from the extra oil. If they drill and there are accidents, then it shows the shortsightedness of the Drill crowd. Notice he did advocate drilling on the West Coast which is more friendly Democratic territory.

Posted by: pb185 | April 23, 2010 8:14 PM | Report abuse

PB, both of those happened decades ago and we know what caused them and we used those accidents to change the regulation and oversight of the rigs and tankers. The Louisiana accident is still ongoing and so are the investigations as to what caused the accident.

Yes, we need to weigh the costs and the benefits. But that weighing can be done without injecting the emotion of this recent tragedy into the debate. That's what these bloggers were doing, and that's why they were called out on it.

Posted by: DCG65 | April 23, 2010 8:46 PM | Report abuse

On April 27, 2003, Exactley seven years ago the Bouchard Barge B-120 hit an obstacle in Buzzards Bay, creating a 12-foot rupture in its hull and discharging an estimated 100,000 gallons of No. 6 oil. The oil is known to have affected an estimated 90 miles of shoreline, numerous bird species, and recreational use of the bay, such as shell fishing and boating.

A jury through an environmental class action suit has awarded Mattapoisett, Massachusetts property owners damages seven years after the oil spill ravaged Buzzards Bay, polluting residential beaches, devastating ecosystems and hurting local property values, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.

What's needed is a federal law that protects Buzzards Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Lets call out our federal legislators, Rep. Barney Frank, Sen. Scott Brown and Sen. John Kerry from Massachusetts.

Posted by: fnhaggerty | April 24, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Let's get all the Virginian politicians who cheer when Sarah Palin chants, "Drill Baby, Drill" on record.

Oil spills on Virginian Beaches are only a matter of when, not if. They can try to explain why, a decade after cleaner alternatives were available to produce the small amount they'll get off the coast, they were, for ideological reasons, insisting on drilling.

Do they still really think that environmentalists are commie, pinko, pot-smoking hippies??? What a bunch of throw-backs!!

Posted by: thebobbob | April 24, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who works in the oil industry know that spills happen all the time on these rigs its only when a tragedy like this happens that people take notice this problem will only increase with more drilling.

Posted by: oniah | April 26, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

This rig was operated by BP (British Petroleum) - the same company responsible for the largest U.S. O&G related disasters in the U.S. over the last 7 years, including the Alyeska Pipeline leak (2006)and the Texas Refinery explosion (2005), which killed 15. BP should be thoroughly investigated for root cause of this disaster, as they were for the pipeline leak. In that case, they were nearly banned from operation in the U.S.

Posted by: addieu2 | April 26, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

The knee-jerk, tear-jerk, reaction is the norm today. Media junkies and political junkies do not have the ability or interest to look at consequences of disasters. The gore, the immediate violence, the death fascinates for a while and then they move on to the next "show".

When the Challenger blew up, we had a tragedy in human terms and a vast technological effort was laid to waste. Research in orbit continues.
With the Louisiana accident, we have another human tragedy, a technological failure and a vast ecological disaster which will not end when the blogs go quiet.

The massive negative ecological impact of off-shore drilling, for the State of Louisiana, and for all states wishing to make money from oil, have to be weighed against the financial gains. This will be done seriously by auditors, real estate and tourism agencies and insurance companies.

Thankfully for the environnement, of which we humans are part and parcel (when its sick we're sick) we have these others powerful financial interests which help counteract, slightly, the greed of the oil industry and the out-to-lunch innocence of the average SUV or pick-up-truck-owning citizen. We invade foreign countries for oil. We let our soldiers die for oil. Drilling disasters, 11 dead, that's minor compared to what we are ready to sacrifice as a nation.

Posted by: ecocites | April 30, 2010 6:38 AM | Report abuse

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