Since taking office, President Obama has been a strong advocate for clean, renewable energy. His administration has frequently cited the need to reduce greenhouse gases while reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Though a comprehensive energy plan has not been formed or announced yet, the President did indicate his desire to increase offshore oil drilling primarily in the Atlantic. The areas would include 50 miles off the coast of Virginia, 125 miles off the Florida Gulf Coast, and the region of Alaska’s Cook Inlet. Though Cape Cod is not included in this proposal, this is a dangerous precedent for new, potential leases elsewhere.
Unfortunately, this expanded region for offshore oil drilling will threaten the Atlantic coastline, and the local economies and fisheries in this region. There is a reason why a moratorium has been in place for decades through both Republican and Democrat administrations. The risks of oil spills and coastal contamination are too great, and the oil industry does not have a good track record in preventing or containing spills.
When the oil reaches the estuaries, bays, and salt marshes, it has a devastating effect on any animal species present. It is particularly damaging to the young larval stages of commercially important shellfish and finfish. Birds are killed when the oil interferes with their natural insulation, as well as the toxic effects of ingesting oil as they preen their feathers. Any endangered mammals offshore, such as whales, are killed in oil spills.
The effects on a coastal community are both immediate and long-term. When the oil first blackens the beaches, tourism comes to a halt. The oil may also linger in the sediments for years. There is still evidence of oil in Prince William Sound in Alaska, a community victimized by the Exxon Valdez oil spill of l989.
The United States uses 20 million barrels of oil a day. If all the oil was taken from the proposed area, it would only last a few years, assuming that the oil would be sold in the United States, and not to other nations. This drilling proposal will have little impact on the country’s energy needs, nor will it affect gasoline prices. Yet a single spill could damage a coastline for many years and do millions of dollars of damage.
To make this a part of a climate control package makes even less sense. Global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. We should be reducing our consumption of oil, coal, and natural gas, not increasing their development. It would be nice if President Obama remembered the policies of candidate Obama. As a candidate he reiterated his support for the offshore oil drilling moratorium.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.