Is Gulf Oil Spill a “Statistical Anomaly”?

June 10th, 2010 at 1:02 am | No Comments |

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In a letter to President Obama, GOP Rep. John Culberson of Texas described the Gulf oil spill as a “statistical anomaly” and criticized the president’s moratorium on new offshore drilling.

On Tuesday morning, Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.) penned an open letter to President Obama expressing his opposition to the recently implemented six-month moratorium on new offshore oil drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico in response to the BP oil spill.

Part of Culberson’s argument has also been articulated by members of the press–namely at The Atlantic and The Wall Street Journal– who all noted that a moratorium was likely to have an even more deleterious effect on the Gulf coast region’s economy than the spill itself. The relatively fresh part of his argument, however, came in the form of some statistical analysis. As Culberson put it:

“The Deepwater Horizon incident was a terrible human tragedy with devastating environmental consequences, but it must be viewed in the proper historical context as a statistical anomaly. The government’s own records show that since 1985, more than 7 billion barrels of oil have been produced in federal offshore waters with less than 0.001 percent spilled – a 99.999% record for clean operations. That 25-year record of safety should not be ignored in the haste to respond to public discord.”

Although Culberson did not specify precisely which government records he was looking at to arrive at those figures, a twenty-year-analysis of oil spill trends in the United States (under EPA jurisdiction) conducted in 2004 by Dagmar Schmidt Etkin found that Culberson was right, at least on the surface.

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