Environmental Law

Safety Should Come Naturally When Drilling

 
  • Getting the natural resources we need should be done as safely as possible
  • As the Gulf oil spill showed, laws are meant to keep things safe
  • Safety is a concern when it comes to other resources, like natural gas
  • We all can play a part in keeping drilling operations safe

 

Like it or not, the US needs natural resources like oil, coal, and natural gas to run. Getting these resources means drilling into the earth. As the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and mining accident earlier in the year showed us, accidents happen and people and the environment get hurt. How do we keep things safe?

Safety Rules

By now, you've probably heard or read about some of the laws in place that are designed to prevent oil spills and the injuries to workers and the environment that usually follow. There are detailed requirements companies must follow before, during, and after drilling operations.

As the Gulf spill has shown, sometimes these laws aren't tough or thorough enough. After all, that was the lesson we learned after the Exxon Valdez spill, right? Federal lawmakers are responding today, too. In mid-2010, the US House of Representatives passed bills that, if they become laws:

  • Bars oil and other energy companies from getting new offshore drilling permits if they have poor safety records
  • Requires oil and gas companies, as a prerequisite to getting an permit to drill offshore, to prove they have adequate and proper equipment, including blowout preventers; an adequate response and clean-up plan; and the ability to drill relief wells quickly

Not Just Oil

Safety concerns go beyond oil rigs and may hit closer to home than the open sea. For example, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, there are concerns over proposed drilling for natural gas within the city limits. The drilling operations would likely translate into millions of dollars in revenue, the creation of thousands of jobs, and satisfy the whole county's natural gas needs for decades.

The downside? Possible threats of ground water contamination, release of hazardous gases and chemicals into the air, noise, and traffic snarls, just to name a few. And, in the worse case, an explosion that likely would kill far more people than the 11 workers killed in the Gulf explosion.

Take Part

There are a number of things any of us can do to help increase safety when it comes to drilling for the natural resources we need:

  • Contact your elected officials in the US House of Representatives and Senate and tell them you're in favor of tougher safety standards
  • Attend meetings, write letters to, or call your local lawmakers and let them know about your safety concerns and demand to know how those concerns will be addressed
  • If you see or hear about something unsafe happening at a drilling site, report it. Start by contacting the US EPA or your local health department
  • Energy companies: Other than following the law and keeping your operations safe, you can keep watch over each other, too. For example, the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) publishes safety alerts for oil, gas, and geothermal drilling operations

There's no doubt we need natural resources like oil and gas. Our need shouldn't outweigh the importance of protecting human life and the environment while getting what we need, though. We can and should do our part to keep things as safe as possible.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What should I do if I or a loved one is hurt in an accident at a drilling site?
  • Can I file a lawsuit against an energy company for violating federal or state environmental laws?
  • Does my homeowner's insurance cover damage to my home caused by an accident at a nearby drilling site?
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