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Balance needed in new drilling rules – Opinions

The oil industry has fretted for months about the U.S. Interior Department’s expected rule changes for drilling.

The industry says the new rules could cost oil companies billions of dollars and could mean the loss of more than 100,000 jobs.

The Interior Department estimates the cost of compliance at less than $1 billion over the next 10 years — a cost it says will be more than offset by savings created by fewer oil spills.

Another concern, though, has recently been raised.

Environmental activists point out that if the rules do result in less drilling in the Gulf, it will mean less money going into the Gulf of Mexico Energy and Security Act mechanism, which is set up channel some of the offshore tax revenue to four Gulf Coast states, including Louisiana.

If that came to pass, it could mean less money for Louisiana’s coastal programs — the primary beneficiary of the GOMESA money, which is set to increase dramatically next year.

Last week, our region marked the sixth anniversary of the deadly Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers and touched off the months-long BP oil spill, resulting in untold damage to plants, animals and habitat in and around the Gulf of Mexico.

That entire episode should have made clear to any observer that the rules and processes the government had in place to ensure safe practices in drilling were in need of an overhaul.

The key to that overhaul, though, must be maintaining a delicate balance between safer operations and profitable drilling.

Oil companies will not continue to explore and drill for oil and gas if doing so in unprofitable.

The new rules are unlikely to result in the worst-case scenario the industry envisions.

And they are unlikely to prevent all future mishaps.

As long as fallible people and industries oversee drilling in the Gulf and elsewhere, it will be a dangerous job that could result in spills and other unintended outcomes.

But the new rules aim to make them less common — while allowing oil companies to continue to drill for and sell energy from our offshore resources.

The rules will never be perfect, but they must be balanced.

The new rules focus on better designs, more oversight and closer monitoring. Those should be improvements that will pay off in safer, more profitable operations.

But they aren’t final yet. There is a 60-day public comment period, which could be followed by changes. Then, the Interior Department will finalize the rules and set a time frame for their implementation.

If there are legitimate concerns that the economic fallout will be dire, those concerns should be addressed now. The most important consideration must be maintaining the balance between safety and profitability.

Our entire region depends on an oil industry that has both.

Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.