Tories say drill, baby, drill


“Drill, baby, drill“ was the rallying cry of Sarah Palin and the American hard right, but even as oil seeps from the Deepwater disaster towards the Louisiana coastline, it is David Cameron’s Conservative Party here in Britain who seemed to have joined the chorus.

Nobel economics laureate Paul Krugman wrote today:

“President Obama needs to seize the moment; he needs to take on the ‘Drill, baby, drill‘ crowd, telling America that courting irreversible environmental disaster for the sake of a few barrels of oil, an amount that will hardly affect our dependence on imports, is a terrible bargain.”

In a new energy policy paper, the Conservatives offer proposals that would give tax breaks to multinational oil companies, and ‘streamlining’ of licensing arrangements, to encourage more offshore oil drilling – and they want to do it in some of Britain’s most sensitive seas.

The new Conservative policy seems to be a reaction to the recommendations of former Tory energy Minister, Tim Eggar. Despite sitting on the board of a number of oil companies, Eggar was hired by George Osborne, just a couple of months ago, to lead a review of the tax arrangements for offshore oil drilling in UK waters. He is understood to have canvassed the big oil companies asking what they would need to make new oil drilling economic.

In the energy policy paper, the Conservatives say they’d like to open up an area of Ocean off the Shetland Islands that is important for its whale and dolphin populations. The area off the coast of Shetland also contains a couple of ‘special areas of conservation’ such as Darwin Mounds, designated for its cold water corals, and Wyville Thompson Ridge, proposed for its stony reef species and bottle nose dolphins. It’s not clear if these special sites would be under threat from the plan.

The Conservative policy says “We need policies designed for hunting [oil]” and goes on to outline:

“We need polices that offer the right incentives to explore for and extract the remaining reserves of oil and gas, and to keep existing fields open as long as possible.”

The paper continues:

“We will streamline government… We will offer exploration companies a simpler, clearer and more transparent licensing process.”

It is hard to see how they could ‘streamline and simplify’ licensing arrangements in such an area, without weakening environmental protection yet further. As the former head of Obama’s transition team, John Podesta of the Centre for American Progress has written in response to BP’s mess:

“The only effective strategy is strong regulatory oversight to prevent disasters in the near term. And getting off oil in the longer term.”

The Wall Street Journal today highlights how ‘acoustic triggers’ (remote controlled shut off mechanisms that can cut off oil wells in an emergency) were rejected by US regulators following lobbying by BP and other oil companies – and how already UK rules for drilling are so weak that these safeguard devices are not required. Yet the indications are that the Conservatives want to weaken the regulations even further.

In response to the Conservatives’ plans, Ruth Davis of Greenpeace told The Guardian:

“Whilst all the parties might have been sniffing around the issue, only the Tories have made a pledge to provide tax breaks and simplify licenses.”

Labour and the Liberal Democrats, while both also enthusiastic for drilling, have just said they will keep offshore drilling arrangements under review.

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