Sunday, May 30, 2010

Deepwater Wake Up Call

I've been following the news on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with a lot of interest. The whole mess is like watching a bad disaster film from the 1970s. But instead of Paul Newman and Steve McQueen battling to put out a blaze in a high rise, you have a bunch of petroleum executives running around, pointing fingers while trying anything with a 50-50 chance for success.

Now entering its second month, the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon and subsequent oil spill is no longer front page news. It's been eclipsed by the latest Lindsey Lohan drama, the deaths of Gary Coleman and Dennis Hopper, and various political infighting the Obama Administration.

Further muddying the message like a failed "junk shot" are the talking heads that call this crisis a "black swan" event. They cite examples of how the safety and technology of today's oil industry makes drilling safe. They claim this disaster was a one in a million shot. A rare event that isn't that bad, since it's only spilling "5,000 barrels of oil a day." I'm sure we'll eventually learn that the disaster was entirely preventable if the correct procedures had been followed, just as we've learned that the well is spilling more than the original 5,000 barrel a day estimate.

If there is a lesson to be learned in all of this, it's that our nation's oil strategy needs to change. I don't know what the solution is, but in the short term we can drive more efficient cars and drive fewer miles. Long term there are a lot of promising technologies--fuel cells, bio-fuels, and improvements in batteries and electric motors mean we could have any number of choices in the next twenty five years.

Rather than government mandates and more half-measure public policy, I hope we see the birth of a new Silicon Valley for alternative energy. Companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google were started by kids with ideas that led to personal computers and the internet revolution. I'd like to see what a new generation of kids could do for the auto industry, when given a similar opportunity.

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