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Energy Sec. Steven Chu: More Drilling Proposal "Not a Mistake"

U.S. Energy Sec. Steven Chu (Credit: AP)

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Wednesday it was not a mistake for the administration to support more offshore drilling as part of comprehensive energy reform, despite the oil rig spill in the Gulf of Mexico that continues to threaten coastal areas.

Chu told host Tom Ashbrook that the administration is “pausing” to take stock of what happened, but new drilling remains on the table. “I don’t think it’s a mistake,” Chu said. “I think the president has always said that we need a balanced portfolio of measures in order to do several things, in a complete energy package.”

The Obama administration has been under increasing pressure to change its position because of the Gulf accident. Chu said he could not guarantee that such incidents would not happen again.

[T]his is indeed an unfortunate accident. We’re trying to find out what happened. But the other thing to bear in mind is that the multinationals of the world, the Exxon-Mobils, the BPs, the Chevrons, the Shells, most of their oil reserves are beginning to transition to offshore reserves, and that’s just the fact. So, accidents do happen. I don’t think anyone really says this never can happen, but we have to take stock of what happened, understand what happened, and aggressively put in much better safeguards to lower that probability substantially.

Below are excerpts from the transcript of the interview. You can listen to the whole discussion.

TOM ASHBROOK: Your thoughts as we all watch the oil spread across the Gulf?

SEC. CHU: Well it’s indeed an unfortunate accident and the first order of business is to contain that oil spill and to minimize its damage to the coastline. So that’s what we’re focused on. 

TOM ASHBROOK: Was it a mistake for the Obama administration, you’re part of it, to just, what, a month ago, say let’s look for more opportunities to drill offshore?

SEC. CHU: No, I don’t think it’s a mistake. I think the president has always said that we need a balanced portfolio of measures in order to do several things, in a complete energy package. The first and foremost is we want to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. We want to increase our renewables. We need to transition to renewable to supplies of energy, especially to bring up our energy efficiency – for a lot of goals. These goals range from, fundamentally, this is going to be a big boost to our economy. The world will transition to clean energy and we have an opportunity to lead in that transition.

TOM ASHBROOK: I know that’s your big theme, but I think Americans are looking right now at what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, backing off offshore drilling, which he has not so long ago supported. You’ve said we’re not going to do this in a way that threatens the environment or the coast line. But that’s what the President said when he gave the green light for more investigation of offshore drilling a month ago. He said new technologies don’t fail on oil rigs. That is manifestly untrue. So, yes, we know the easy line was to be part of the package, but is the cost too high?

SEC. CHU: Well, as I said this is indeed an unfortunate accident. We’re trying to find out what happened. But the other thing to bear in mind is that the multinationals of the world, the Exxon-Mobils, the BPs, The Chevrons, The Shells, most of their oil reserves are beginning to transition to offshore reserves, and that’s just the fact. So, accidents do happen. I don’t think anyone really says this never can happen, but we have to take stock of what happened, understand what happened, and aggressively put in much better safeguards to lower that probability substantially.

TOM ASHBROOK: You’re a scientist, you know the safeguards that have already been put into effect. Do you really think that it can be done? Do you really thin we can make this safe enough? In this case, we don’t know yet, but the cost may be the economy and the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico, for heaven sakes?

SEC. CHU: Well, whenever things happen, whenever an accident happens, where something happens — we see this in all cases, when there’re major earthquakes, we learn a little bit more when there are accidents. We learn a lot more. And so right now there were, as I understand it, this so-called “BOP,” the blowout prevention valve, had several safeguard redundant features and apparently they all failed. And so as we work very hard to figure out what happened – first, you stop the leak and then do some more … You find out what really happened, and so you will have to do some forensic work. And then you go forward. You know, airplanes crash. We find out what happened, and we go forward and every time these truly unfortunate accidents happen, you learn from them.

TOM ASHBROOK: “Accidents happen” may sound to some ears a little cavalier here. I know your record, and I know where you are on global warming. I know you don’t mean it lightly, but given the extent of the damage, it may sound like … When you were director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, you led a lot of research into renewable energy. A whole lot of that was financed, as I understand it, by BP. A $500 million dollar grant from BP to establish an Energy Bio Sciences Institute there. Does that influence your view of this particular company, and this particular accident?

SEC. CHU: No, it doesn’t. When I say — I hope I didn’t sound cavalier when I said, I believe I said – this truly unfortunate accident happened and that we have to learn from it. It’s something that we want to press towards zero accidents. This is something that  industry does all the time, things have gotten better. Clearly, because it happened I would agree things are not perfect, things are not fail-safe, and we have to learn from this. And so we’re pausing, we’re taking a step, and we have to figure out what really happened …

Listen to the full discussion as Secretary Chu and Tom discuss America’s energy future.

Shirin Jaafari contributed to this report.

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