Big Oil Finally Catches a Break, Can Now Afford to Send Kids to College

Big Oil made big news on Wednesday when Exxon Mobil announced a major find in one of its Gulf of Mexico oil fields.  Predictably, the industry and their friends in government are using the announcement to push for more drilling. The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page featured this love song to the company:

Exxon Mobile CEO Jed Clampett and family in search of black gold

The Exxon discovery is a display of the animal spirits that still live in the U.S. energy industry, notwithstanding the political efforts to stifle them. As much as Washington tries, the U.S. economy is hard to keep down.

And Scott Angelle, Secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Natural Rescources, was practically breathless:

This is a great day for the Gulf of Mexico offshore energy industry and a great day for America. One year since our fight to lift the moratorium on deepwater drilling began, ExxonMobil has made one of the largest Gulf of Mexico discoveries in ten years. This discovery proves that the Gulf of Mexico offshore industry is capable of finding the fuel that energizes America in a safe and responsible manner.

Mr. Angelle and co. seem happy to ignore an important fact: In no way has the industry proven it can act in a “safe and responsible manner.” Exxon’s oil sits under 7,000 feet of water, which is two thousand feet deeper than the Macondo well that exploded last spring. And thanks in large part to opposition from industry, Congress still hasn’t passed a single law to make drilling safer — the House of Representatives is actually trying to roll back safeguards and open up the entire coast to development.

Congress' To-Do List

What’s really baffling is that drilling advocates should be the biggest proponents of safety, because another accident like the Deepwater Horizon could spell the end of that enterprise as we know it. Exxon and folks on Capitol Hill would do well to remember who caused the disaster in the first place (that would be BP, a charter member of Big Oil) instead of acting like the blameless victims of an environmentalist conspiracy.

And when you think about it, we’re not much better off today than we were before Exxon’s announcement. The discovery is certainly a big one, but from the way industry and their friends are backslapping you would think they just solved world hunger. Let’s put it in perspective: The United States used about 7 billion barrels of oil last year, and analysts say Exxon’s new find will only give us about 35 days of energy.  Max. And that’s assuming Exxon can pump it all (they won’t — they’ll probably recover less than half) and every drop stays in the US (it won’t — much of the oil is destined for export to foreign markets).  But hey, on the bright side, their stock went up on the news.

So before we get too excited about this, let’s be clear about what we’re cheering for: corporate profits, not energy security, environmental protection, or worker safety.