Commentary: Keep the Gulf oil drilling moratorium in place

As BP finishes up work on the relief well and permanent cap this week, troubling signs indicate the hard lessons from the worst oil spill in the country's history could be swept aside.

The White House is looking at ending the deepwater drilling moratorium sooner than expected. The oil industry is exerting pressure with jobs as leverage and again claiming that drilling is safe.

Federal records show a spotty industry record at best with more than a half million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf between 1964 and 2009. A small number of spills occur annually from well blowouts, hurricanes, pipeline breaks, tanker leaks and human error.

A 1970 Shell Oil well blowout spewed 53,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf, according to statistics from the Minerals Management Service, recently renamed and refocused as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. But according to one insider who tracked the oil spill for Shell, the actual leak was 10 times that figure, the Washington Post reported last month. That raises questions about the veracity of all of the government’s spill statistics, which are mostly based on company estimates.

In the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion, safety measures and equipment maintenance were compromised by drilling priorities and economic concerns. Safety standards should be improved and enforced by the new federal agency.

Until the well’s blowout preventer is raised from the bottom of the Gulf and inspected for clues into why it failed, confidence in that vital piece of equipment will remain shaky. The commission investigating the disaster must be given time to find answers and propose solutions.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Bradenton Herald.