My fellow Americans:
I speak to you tonight about the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As your President, I want to explain as clearly as I can why this spill happened, why it has proved so difficult to contain, and how this event must shape our future energy policies and approach to government and private enterprise.
First, why did the spill happen? Some have argued that BP and other oil companies are too greedy for profit and so take unconscionable risks with the safety of our environment. Those critics fail to realize the enormous liability that BP will now suffer for the damage it has done to the economy of the Gulf. Anyone who has followed BP's stock price since the spill knows that BP would have done everything it could to prevent an event like this, had BP known exactly how to do that. Oil companies know that they will pay out ruinous damages for events like these. That threat to their profits is the most powerful motivation available to restrain the foolishness that greed can engender.
Some have argued that the well was in water too deep for drilling to be practical. Those people have a point: we have many places we can drill that are much less likely to create an environmental hazard like this. That's why I am issuing an executive order to open drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. Those fields offer much easier, safer drilling with less possibility of environmental impact. Perhaps such drilling will allow us to be more careful about drilling in deep water opposite states that are supportive of the oil industry.
However, the truth is that we have a national interest in deep-water drilling. If we are not to rely entirely on dictatorships for our supply of oil, we need enhanced domestic supply. But how can we drill in deep waters when the risks to the environment are so high?
The answer is that we must learn how to drill more effectively, just as we must learn how to manage oil spills more effectively. In this respect, oil drilling is just like every other human endeavor: we learn by trial and error.
Even now, while oil continues to spill into the Gulf, we know more about how to respond to such spills than we knew before this disaster happened. We are learning from this episode just as we learned better techniques for extinguishing oil well fires after Saddam Hussein left Kuwait's oil fields ablaze in his retreat in the first Gulf War. We are learning just as we did with Exxon Valdiz spill or the iconic Santa Barbara oil spill. We are learning just as we did after the two horrible Space Shuttle disasters, just as we did after Pearl Harbor and Bull Run and Bunker Hill, just as humankind consistently learns by making mistakes.
Some say that we don't need to learn anything from this episode except that oil is bad for us. They insist that we must move as quickly as possible from a fossil-fuel economy to a green-energy economy. But I must warn that green energy is not so green. Oil drilling alters the but a tiny fraction of the earth's surface, while green technologies--solar, wind, biofuels, and the like--will require millions of acres to produce what a few oil wells can offer. We will continue to support research into the development of alternative energy sources and to encourage energy conservation with tax incentives, building codes and the like. But let's be honest: fifty years from now, we will still be relying significantly on fossil fuels.
This is my answer to those who argue that federal regulation failed to prevent this spill because regulation was too lax. But let's remember that government regulators are not omniscient. They only know what the present state of knowledge is, and seldom do they know it better than those who work in the industry or who train its engineers in our universities. For those who complain about the close relationship between industry and regulators, I ask what they offer as an alternative. Only experts in the technology of an industry can regulate it. The only source of experts is the industry itself. Do we want our best and brightest engineers working for Washington or working to get the oil out of the ground effectively? Obviously we need a blend of both, and that's exactly what our "revolving door" between government and industry provides.
But still, these experts are human. They make mistakes--out of ignorance, sometimes out of carelessness, sometimes out of mendacity. We will investigate carefully this disaster's causes carefully, not to scapegoat but first to learn how to avoid such events in the future and second to hold to account those whose negligence, if indeed any were negligent, makes them civilly liable or criminally culpable.
But we won't redress some imagined "out of control" industry with more burdensome federal regulation. We may call government employees "public servants," but they are just as fallible as those in private industry--and just as inclined to the pride and selfishness that lead to bad decisions even about those things that we do understand. Anyone who's filled out a tax form understands what I mean.
So in sum, we will not back down from our goal to increase America's domestic oil production. In fact, we are doubling down on that commitment. Further, we are committed to learning everything that we can from this awful event so that in the future mistakes like this will be less likely and less costly. But we will not let this setback deter us from what is right and sensible for our country's future.
Allow me to make a comparison to another recent event. Wednesday night Detroit Tiger Armando Galarraga pitched a perfect game. That is, it would have been a perfect game had umpire Jim Joyce not blown the call of the final out. Joyce himself has admitted the mistake, and Major League Baseball may yet allow Galarraga's feat to enter the record books.
What do we do with a mistake like Joyce's? Should baseball eliminate umpires? Should all calls be reviewed by instant replay, or just those that affect things that go in the record books? We can debate those questions, but it's clear that Major League Baseball and Jim Joyce both have a tremendous opportunity to learn from this event, a one-of-a-kind event to be sure, but one that can inform many more common events that happen on the field.
That's exactly the way we must view the Gulf oil spill. This is a disaster far worse than a blown call in baseball. But it need not--indeed it cannot--deter us from exploring the seas for oil. When this is over, and it will be over soon, we'll know far more about deep-sea drilling and oil-spill management than we did when we began. And we will be able to move forward with more confidence, not less.