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In Expanding Drilling, Administration Downplayed Oil Spill Risk

Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker story on the demise of the Senate climate bill makes clear that the Obama administration did not take seriously the oil spill risk associated with expanded offshore drilling.

The administration announced in March that it would expand offshore drilling — an effort to win support from Republicans for a climate bill. (The plan, Lizza reports, actually took some negotiating leverage away from the senators trying to negotiate a compromise). In expanding drilling, key administration officials downplayed the possibility of a spill.

According to Lizza:

The strategy had risks, including the possibility that expanded drilling off America’s coast could lead to a dangerous spill. But Browner, the head of the E.P.A. for eight years under Clinton, seemed to think the odds of that were limited. “Carol Browner says the fact of the matter is that the technology is so good that after Katrina there was less spillage from those platforms than the amount you spill in a year filling up your car with gasoline,” the White House official said. “So, given that, she says realistically you could expand offshore drilling.”

And Obama said the same thing:

On March 31st, Obama announced that large portions of U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic Ocean, and off the East Coast—from the mid-Atlantic to central Florida—would be newly available for oil and gas drilling. Two days later, he said, “It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore.”

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