The recent Interior Department proposal to allow offshore oil– and gas-drilling along the East Coast is simply absurd. Waves of drilling could likely precede waves of oil lapping at the shores of our beloved beaches and storied seaports — imperiling fish, wildlife, local economies and treasured ways of life. The potential rewards for Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay are not worth the risk of more seismic testing — let alone another calamitous spill.
The oil and gas industry frequently tells us that drilling rigs are now accident-proof, pipelines rarely break and tankers hardly ever sink. In truth, the United States averages a decent-size oil spill every day under current levels of production.
We don’t need to look any further than the storied Yellowstone River to see the risk. It suffered a major infusion of petrochemicals after a pipeline rupture in January, contaminating the local drinking water supplies in Glendive, MT, with cancer-causing benzene. If that news rang a bell, it should have: A similar spill occurred in the Yellowstone in 2011.
An even more poignant reminder is found along the Gulf of Mexico, where the damage from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster is far from being reversed. In fact, that spill’s damage still isn’t fully understood, as teams of state and federal trustees continue to grapple with the task of tabulating the full ecological and economic damage. I just can’t believe that it would seem wise to anyone — much less one of the same trustee agencies investing the Deepwater Horizon spill’s damage — to expand offshore drilling before we understand the full impacts of the last spill of national significance.
At about the same time oil started spewing into the Yellowstone, a federal judge in New Orleans considering BP’s liability for the Deepwater Horizon spill under the Clean Water Act finally arrived at the most credible estimate of how much oil was released into the Gulf of Mexico: 3.19 million barrels. Even if you cannot fathom just how much oil this represents, the fact that it has taken almost five years from the start of the Deepwater Horizon spill to realistically calculate the volume of oil that it released should tell us just how huge of a threat offshore drilling poses.
The Interior Department proposal for East Coast offshore drilling contains provisions that oil and gas rigs could not be located within 50 miles of the Atlantic coastline. This may sound far, but consider that it took a mere two weeks for the first tarballs from Deepwater Horizon to travel about 40 miles to shore, and hardly a month for beaches and marshes in multiple states to be extensively coated with oil. The agency points to prevailing winds and currents as proof that any spills would be carried away from the East Coast and into the open ocean. But the National Oceanic and Oceanic Administration says differently: 72 percent of the time, the prevailing winds in the region proposed for drilling blow toward the coast. Winds and currents constantly change, eradicating any guise of protection. And open ocean environments are among the most diverse and fragile on Earth, suggesting that we should protect them more strongly, not potentially expose them to frequent oil and gas discharges.
The United States is now the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas — without drilling off the fragile Atlantic or the Pacific coasts. Worldwide, the price of oil and the cost of clean energy alternatives are at near-record lows. The cost-benefit has never been better to focus our investments on renewable energy sources that move us away from fossil fuels.
Oil is a finite resource and the sun is not, perhaps this is why jobs in the U.S. solar industry have been mushrooming 10 times faster than the nation’s average job growth, which has also been setting records. We can create U.S. jobs and become more energy secure without committing to risky coastal drilling.
The Interior Department will allow the public to comment on its proposal to expand East Coast drilling later this year. I urge everyone who cares about our coasts to join me in speaking out loudly against the plan. We need to make it clear to all involved that the health and vitality of our oceans and coasts must not be sacrificed. Future generations should never have to witness Deepwater Horizon again.