Oil leaking following an April 20 explosion and fire on a drilling rig 50 miles off the Louisiana coast is wreaking havoc. The Coast Guard estimates that as much as 5,000 barrels a day are being released from a pipe resting on the sea floor and causing goo to infiltrate waterways. This has, naturally, terrified fishermen and everyone involved in coastal tourism.
The Obama administration is making a show of concern and offers of aid--two Cabinet secretaries and the head of the EPA were in Louisiana Friday--but nobody has mentioned the government's dirty little secret: What could have been an effective high-tech method to remediate oil spills was killed by federal regulators.
Accidents that cause oil spills are inevitable as long as they can be caused by human or mechanical failures or the vagaries of weather. During the 1980s microorganisms genetically engineered to degrade spilled oil were developed in laboratories, but Draconian federal regulations discouraged their testing and commercialization and ensured the techniques available for responding to these disasters remain low-tech and marginally effective. They include methods such as deploying booms to contain the oil, spraying chemicals to disperse it, burning it and spreading absorbent mats.