In the end, did huge Gulf oil spill underwhelm oil-hungry Americans?
Predictions of 'Obama's Katrina,' millions of fish belly up on beaches, and an end to deep-water drilling all came to naught. High gasoline prices now seem more pressing to Americans than the Deepwater Horizon disaster that led to Gulf oil spill.
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"It's remarkable that, broadly speaking, this was the ecological disaster that wasn't," says Robert Bryce, a senior energy policy fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative, market-oriented think tank in New York City. "The ... accident and what we've seen since then show how important the Gulf of Mexico is to US energy supplies."Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, 69 percent of Americans now favor more offshore drilling, 20 percentage points more than at the height of the oil spill last June. At the same time, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, 57 percent of Americans say they doubt that any Washington regulations will do much to prevent a new spill.
One interpretation may be that Americans got a big dose of the uncertainties inherent in deepwater drilling, which Mr. Bryce says rival those of space exploration in terms of the technological challenges. In congressional debate about raising the paltry $75 million liability cap for oil spills, a Gulf Coast politician, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana, was the one arguing that such a move would crush smaller and medium-size oil firms operating along the Gulf.
More than in the rest of America, people along the Gulf Coast may have a deeper understanding of the risks, and even the necessity, of drilling deeper and deeper in the hunt for fuel.
"It may be that the Gulf Coast, with its long exposure to the energy industry, accepts the risks of offshore drilling along with the rewards," writes the Economist magazine this week. "That acceptance of certain risks may increase tolerance of uncertain outcomes."
That's not to say the spill is a distant memory in the region. Along the coast, kitchen table discussions are as much about rejected reimbursement requests from the BP trust fund as the day's fishing prospects. As much as 85 percent of the oyster grounds were destroyed, much of it from BP's response to the spill rather than the oil itself, forcing people like Henry Martin, an oyster dredger in Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish, to retrofit his oyster boats with shrimp trawl gear.
But the internal conflicts of many residents here are summed up David Camardelle, mayor of Grande Isle, La. He both supports the oil industry and fears the impact of the remaining oil, which he describes as an undersea specter ready to rear up and wash ashore in the next big storm.