Though it has been achieved with relative safety for decades, deep water drilling is fraught with potential danger to the environment and the extent and ramifications of the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico have yet to be determined. In our endless search for fossil fuel, we have developed technologies which, in most cases, have proved safe and effective; the current crisis, on the other hand, demonstrates that our systems are not foolproof and that the risk to natural ecosystems can be substantial.
While accidents involving land-based wells and transport ships can also be disastrous, as the Exxon Valdez proved, our ability to deal with deep water failures is clearly limited and the ongoing tragedy in the Gulf is a warning to put the breaks on offshore drilling. Whether caused by hurricanes, material defects or human error, a major oil leak in the relatively shallow and close-in waters of our Continental Shelf can have devastating effects on marine and coastal habitats.
It is ironic that this disaster developed within weeks of President Obama's announcement that his Administration will support the expansion of offshore drilling along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts of the U.S. If I were religious, I might believe that last week's explosion was a message from a higher authority.