Is the solution to pass more laws and tighten industry regulations further?
I'm a regulation person; I think that's key. The whole idea of a business having to file an environmental impact statement before starting any work, for example, was really a transformative thing that grew out of the oil spill and the California Environmental Quality Act. And, of course, we learn in both cases how important it is to not rely on industry self-policing. There must be independent regulation, however difficult that goal may be to achieve.
The oil industry hasn't exactly been seen as a vanguard of the green movement. Will they have to work harder now to improve their image?
Beyond tougher regulations, for the oil industry to continue to operate they will have to ante up in some way and probably accede to some of the demands that are made for reform. They did not seem, for example, to be resisting the breakup of the MMS that President Obama is putting into place.
Learning from Santa Barbara, we might also expect the industry to be more willing to, in effect, give back to the affected communities through environmentally relevant contributions. That might include things that do not really involve the environment in a direct way but consist of in-kind donations for things like parks, schools and other scenic amenities. In the case of the Gulf there may be focused efforts to remediate impacts on fisherpeople's lives. In the case of Santa Barbara some of this was generated as part of legal settlements launched by local governments that placed conditions on further land-based and offshore developments.
Although the BP response has not [showed] strong evidence for it, oil companies' public relations operations are so much more evolved compared to Union Oil['s] in 1969. I would expect a much more dedicated and smooth effort to bolster local support.
What does this mean for the development of renewable energy sources?
This is certainly a gift to the green movement; you could call it that. A harsh gift, but it will strongly influence interest in the National Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and other types of environmental groups. The sort of ground swell of activity that happened in Santa Barbara because of the dawning of this environmental issue won't happen here, though. It will be more of an eking out of change in a more environmentalist direction.
So, even though the Deepwater oil leak will end up being orders of magnitude larger than the spill near Santa Barbara, you're expecting that less will change as a result?
There'll be some political impact from this leak but this impact will be less than it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s because at that time there was almost a religious awakening to the importance of protecting the environment. Something like that could only happen once.