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Reasoned judgment is needed in oil drilling

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Much of the world is watching in horror as a growing blanket of oil spreads onto the pristine beaches and marshes of our Gulf Coast. One of the most serious threats to the environment in decades is putting great pressure on governments to 'do something'. But in their rush to respond, officials can ignore science and embrace dubious solutions.

Gov. Jindahl of Louisiana is pressing for 45 miles of artificial berm -- 300 feet wide at its base and rising 6 feet out of the Gulf -- in an attempt to protect delta wetlands from the encroaching oil. But since the Louisiana berm will not be continuous, there is a strong likelihood that oil will flow in through the gaps, and then possibly become trapped in wetlands. The Interior Department suggests the costs for these berms are likely to be close to $500 million. Coastal geologists also suggest that the berms will not be effective and will erode with the first storm.

President Obama has suspended 33 ongoing deep water drilling programs in the Gulf of Mexico for at least six months, although all of them are by operators with a long record of safe drilling programs, seeking oil we won't have to import.

These hasty responses remind me of the cancelation of 51 ongoing American nuclear reactor builds after the 1979 Three Mile Island partial core meltdown in reactor No. 2. Some of those new reactors were near completion, resulting in billions of write-offs. There were no injuries at TMI and no release of dangerous radiation. Those 51 additional nuclear reactors could now be producing low cost carbon free power like the 104 U.S. reactors that did go on line.

Instead we need 51 more large polluting coal fueled plants. And TMI reactor No. 1 recently set a record of two years of continuous operation without incident, and has been granted a 20 year license extension.

Reasoned judgment and action is needed when political pressures mount. Let's hope we get it.

Rolf E. Westgard

Deerwood, Minn.

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