Grand Coteau, Louisiana, July 23 — Yesterday 11,000 people attended a rally at the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana to protest President Obama’s moratorium on deep water drilling.  When one strips away the anti-Obama feeling which predated the spill, the exaggerations, and the need of many to score partisan political points, the essential message of the rally is valid.  A moratorium is not the answer.

At this point we do not know with any degree of certainty what caused the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.  It is clear that generally BP has less than a stellar reputation in the oil industry for cutting corners in terms of safety and best drilling practices, and that some of those corners were probably cut on that rig.  Having said that, the verdict is still out as to what actually led to the spill.  It is still possible that we will learn that the spill was caused at least in part by an accident.

SpillShutting down any rigs in the Gulf will have severe economic consequences for this region – the main point of yesterday’s protest.  Louisiana has an unemployment rate of about 11% – not the worst in the country but bad enough.  That percentage does not take into account the impact of the events of the last three months.  It is difficult to overstate the financial and psychological uncertainty and damage we have experienced since mid-April.

As the rally was underway yesterday Bonnie was upgraded to a tropical storm and is on a predicted path heading straight at the site of the well and South Louisiana.  Though not predicted to become a hurricane, the storm is already disrupting life and business here.  My wife and I are scheduled to leave for a week in Connecticut on Sunday – the day the storm will likely hit here.  The trip cannot be postponed because she is to attend a workshop there. Our problem is a small matter in the overall scheme of things, but it does illustrate what many others are experiencing in a more serious way.  We will survive Bonnie, but there will be a cost to an area already under siege.

The moratorium will only add to that cost.  Rather than this draconian policy, I suggest a more modest approach.  The government should place inspection teams on every deep water well thought to be a potential problem.  Those teams would insure that existing drilling regulations be followed and they would document any questionable practices. A team would have the authority to shut down any drilling operation deemed to be a hazard. As we learn more about the cause of the original spill, that knowledge could be incorporated immediately into the inspection teams’ mandate.

I am not a great fan of the oil industry.  I bemoan our national dependence on petroleum. I long for an administration, and a public, ready to confront our energy issues.  I wish Louisiana were not so reliant on oil to drive and sustain our state economy.  I too fear another spill. However, these concerns are not going to be resolved soon and a moratorium is not the answer. I see no utility in sanctioning an entire industry, and the people of a region, for the probable sins of the owners and operators of one rig.