A couple of weeks ago Royal Dutch Shell received permission to begin drilling for oil in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. Over the past several months, environmental groups and just plain old citizens, particularly in the Seattle area, have been going bonkers over Shell’s plan to drill for oil in the Arctic after the debacle involving the drilling barge Kulluk in 2012.

When the anti-drilling crowd found out that the Obama administration had given Shell the green light to drill, it must have sent some of them into apoplexy.

I understand both sides of the argument. Oil spills should not be tolerated, not just in Alaska — anywhere. Oil companies should do their homework. They should not use platforms or vessels that have or have the potential to cause problems. If it has problems of any kind, it can’t be involved in offshore oil and gas drilling. (In November 2012, the drillship Noble Discoverer, part of Shell’s exploratory drilling fleet, was inspected by the Coast Guard following the summer-fall drilling window in the Arctic. Investigators found several major safety and pollution prevention equipment discrepancies on the vessel that prevented it from meeting federal and international safety requirements, according to the Los Angeles Times.) That type of thing cannot be tolerated.

On the other hand, while President Obama was in Alaska this week, he said the following: “Our economy still has to rely on oil and gas. As long as that’s the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic production than foreign imports.” He means energy independence. I’m all for that.

So how can someone like me have his cake and eat it too? I’m glad you asked. Congress passes a law that holds oil company executives criminally responsible — CRIMINALLY — if an oil spill occurs and the company is found to be at fault. I said executive, not some middle management schmuck forced to fall on his sword.

Don’t just fine oil company executives. For them, money is what they have more than any other commodity. Yes, hit them in their companies’ bottom lines, but also have them put something far more valuable than money on the line — their FREEDOM. That would force them to put a chip in the pot that they really couldn’t afford to lose. 

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.