Both the West Virgina coal mining disaster and the Gulf oil spill prove that there are devastating consequences to cutting corners.
Scientists are only beginning to investigate the devastating effects of the British Petroleum (BP) massive oil spill. The House Energy and Commerce Committee heard from experts on May 21 about the thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf.
Critics argue that the cleanup has been ineffective. The blame extends to both the oil company and the government. The Obama administration approved BP’s Gulf drilling bid in February 2009.
ABC News reported on April 29, “The massive oil spill off the Gulf coast has complicated President Barack Obama’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling in areas long out of bounds to energy development, forcing administration officials to promise a more critical look at the potential environmental risks.”
According to a May 21 CNN report, “This is not just a regional issue for the wildlife,” said Carl Safina, the president of the Blue Ocean Institute. Noting common migratory patterns, he warned that multiple forms of marine life from across the Atlantic Ocean “come into the Gulf to breed.”
An independent expert, University of California-Berkeley professor Robert Bea has been interviewing those involved and giving them confidentiality in exchange for their candor. He said on NBC Nightly News May 21 that this accident was preventable. Bea has 50 years of experience in the oil industry. He says that safety was compromised due to improper well design and missed early warning signs of kicks of gas among other things. Bea said, “Drilling and well completion operations did not meet industry standards.” Bea says these bad decisions were designed to save time and money at the expense of safety.
Just like the April 5 coal miner disaster at the Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch South Mine in West Virginia, which was the deadliest mining disaster the U.S. has experienced in 25 years, cutting corners proves to have catastrophic consequences.
Similar to the BP oil spill, authorities will fully investigate what went wrong at the mine, but this particular mine has a history of safety violations. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited the mine for 1,342 safety violations over the past five years. Massey Energy reportedly contested 422 of those violations, but paid $742,830 in fines.
The Associated Press reported that just last year “federal inspectors fined the company more than $382,000 for repeated serious violations involving its ventilation plan and equipment.”
There is little debate that offshore drilling is almost as dangerous as coal mining for the workers involved. The risky work environment for both jobs is rewarded with lucrative pay. Workers earn far more than they could make in other positions. While they knowingly accept the risk, the corporations employing them have an ethical and legal obligation to provide a safe environment that complies with existing government guidelines.
We must not forget the severity of these recent and ongoing tragedies and honor their victims by tirelessly working to make sure that mines are safer and oil drilling safety standards are enforced.
Critical thinkers must ask, what is the point of having safety standards if they are not followed and enforced? While there are those that call for a bigger government, what we need is an effective government.