Our Views: Public tough on oil safety

It is difficult to imagine a more unfortunate series of events than those of the past 10 days in the oil and gas industry.

After the re-election of President Barack Obama on Nov. 6, leading spokesmen of the industry bemoaned what they described as a dim — if not cruel — prospect of increased regulation.

“He has promised to slash the oil and gas industry’s tax incentives, increase regulations through the EPA, and continue making red tape and bureaucracy the norm,” said Don Briggs, head of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, in a fairly typical lament.

Within days, one of the world’s largest companies, BP, pleaded guilty to felony counts of criminal misconduct in the 2010 oil spill that damaged the Gulf Coast’s environment and killed 11 men on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform.

And last Friday, a shallow-water drilling explosion off Louisiana’s coast near Grand Isle resulted in death and serious injuries.

This latest tragedy is surely going to have a considerable impact on the industry, and one which ought to be met by oil and gas interests without over-the-top fulminations about regulation.

When Obama’s Department of the Interior responded to the 2010 disaster with an oil moratorium, it became a political football for many Louisiana politicians. There was scant regard for the long-term interest of our state and our oil industries in safe operations going forward.

That long-term success of the industry depends on a decent respect for the opinions of the public, likely to be upset by yet another serious rig fire.

Here in Louisiana, we understand the risks as well as the rewards of oil and gas development — onshore and off, deepwater and shallow. The industry, despite these events, has a better safety record than many of its critics will admit. We support its continued growth.

Further, we don’t believe that worker safety is ignored by most operators. Industrial accidents happen, with sometimes terrible consequences for workers. When neglect is criminal, prosecution and stiff penalties are appropriate — in any business or industry.

At the same time, companies need regulation, as free of red tape as possible but above all effective. Safety is not a burdensome requirement.