By Ray Fleming

THERE seems every chance that the cost of the oil gush from BP's damaged Gulf of Mexico platform will equal or exceed that caused by the Exon Valdez tanker spill in Alaska in 1999. That bill was of the order of 3.5 billion dollars for the clean-up and 5 billion in compensation and legal costs, but as yet there is no way of knowing how long it will be before the BP spill -- the equivalent of 5'000 barrels a day -- will last; a month seems the most optimistic estimate. This disaster comes at a difficult time for the Obama administration which only a few weeks ago announced that it intended to ease a moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling in several coastal zones of the United States.

The decision shocked environmentalists but President Obama argued that America would never shake loose from its dependence on foreign supplies until it developed its own resources. One of the first acts of the White House after news came of the BP spill was to put a temporary hold on any new drilling plans. It is now inevitable that opposition to extension of existing operations will harden. By an odd coincidence, last week a large offshore wind farm off Cape Cod on the Atlantic coast was authorised by the White House. It will be America's first major wind farm and it has taken nine years to overcome local opposition to it from local interests. America's energy problems are far from solved.