Friday, August 5, 2011

Senate Says, "More Oil Please"

On July 21, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed S.916, a bill to amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953. The stated purpose of the bill is to facilitate oil and gas development on federal lands and waters and "reduce our dependence on foreign oil and gas." The bill would: 1) provide an $850 million subsidy to the oil and gas industry over the next ten years to conduct seismic surveys on the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”); 2) phase-out royalty relief for future leases; and 3) strengthen support for an Alaskan pipeline to carry natural gas to the lower 48 states.

It is unclear how the government subsidy for seismic surveys will further the stated purpose of the bill. The industry has not, in the past, seemed reticent to fund and carry out the surveys themselves. There does not seem to be any reason for the government (i.e. taxpayers) to absorb costs that are willingly borne by the industry.

Phasing out the royalty-relief program for OCS leases is a more logical policy. Royalty relief , initiated in 1995, allows oil and gas companies to delay royalty payments on their leases until certain production quotas have been met. The program was originally designed to encourage domestic energy production at a time when oil prices were low. Although the program made little sense even then, it makes no sense now, when oil prices are at record-highs. Given the current state of the federal government’s finances, getting rid of royalty relief and pocketing the increased royalties seems like good policy. However, there are two possible downsides to this scheme that also apply to royalties generally. First, the prospect of increased revenue may make the federal government more eager to grant leases, and less concerned with its proper regulatory function. Second, the scheme makes offshore drilling a larger and steadier source of revenue for the government, and may make the government less apt to focus on renewables.

The final major topic of the bill is a natural gas pipeline between the North Slope of Alaska and the Midwest. The bill increases the federal loan guarantee for a pipeline from $18 million to $30 million and secures a right of way through Denali National Park. Besides the obvious problems inherent in constructing a massive infrastructure project through a pristine wilderness area, there are also concerns that the pipeline will lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, but the natural gas transported in this pipeline may be diverted to Alberta and used to power extraction of the dirtiest fossil fuel—tar sands oil. Over its life cycle, tar sands oil leads to 10-45% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude.

The same day it passed S.916, the Senate Committee failed to pass S.917, a bill originally designed to make offshore drilling safer. Disputes over S.917 arose over its revenue sharing provisions. The Committee could not come to an agreement on whether and to what extent adjoining coastal states should be entitled to OCS royalties. One potential problem with states sharing the revenue is that they would then push for more offshore drilling. Under the OCSLA, states are entitled to participate in drilling planning and policy.

by Natasha Bhushan

Thursday, July 28, 2011

CNN Ireporter Coverage of Surfrider's Recent Dive for Oil off of Gulf Coast

Surfrider's Emerald Coast Chapter participated in a joint effort scuba assessments on July 12th 2011. The Florida panhandle shallow seafloor sediment shows signs of the possible presence of dispersed oil.

A team of research divers scoured the Florida panhandle looking for signs of BP oil. What they did find was a desolate seafloor, with few signs of life. The sand should be tan or white and look like a desert floor with ripples and ridges of tan sand.

Marine life should be attracted to the disturbance of bottom sediments, with small fish darting into the cloud of silt and crabs scurrying away to bury themselves in hiding. Rays and starfish should be abundant. What they filmed was a scene of dark desolate bottom sediment where dark sediment ejected from the animal burrows sat in piles of contrasting colors. Could it be due to contamination from the BP oil spill?

One of the divers who has been researching the DWH disaster for the past year was alarmed by the lack of living things in the northwest Florida waters. Another diver, an environmental scientist, was shocked by the absence of bait fish during the 6 dives. As the dives progressed from east to west, the sediment conditions deteriorated considerably.

The sediment samples have been sent to a certified lab for chemical analysis and results will be back within a month. That's when we will know definitely what is lurking off the shores of the Florida panhandle.

In the meantime, ask your local representatives why BP isn't doing this kind of research to assure safety for the children and animals along the Gulf coast.

Additional in response to this effort the USCG, FEMA and BP finally met yesterday in Pensacola, to discuss the possibility of oil hitting our shores during a hurricane or major storm.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Environmental Groups Oppose Bad Offshore Drilling Bills

Today Surfrider Foundation and 48 other environmental organizations submitted a letter to Chairman Doc Hastings and Member Edward Markey of the Natural Resources Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, opposing H.R.1229, the Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act; H.R.1230, the Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act; and H.R.1231, the Reversing President Obama's Offshore Moratorium Act. Here is the text of that letter:

Dear Chairman Hastings and Ranking Member Markey:

On behalf of our millions of members we are writing in opposition to H.R.1229, the Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act; H.R.1230, the Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act; and H.R.1231, the Reversing President Obama's Offshore Moratorium Act. At a time when Congress should be addressing the systemic failures that led to the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, these pieces of legislation irresponsibly accelerate the very processes that led to the largest environmental disaster in our nation’s history, short‐cutting environmental safeguards and putting workers and coastal communities at greater risk.

Oil spills like the BP Gulf oil disaster not only threaten ocean and coastal ecosystems, but the economies and communities that rely on them. Hundreds of thousands of jobs in fisheries, tourism, and recreation rely on healthy coastal and marine environments. In the Gulf alone, fishing and tourism bring $57 billion in sales and support over 830,000 jobs.

The bi‐partisan National Oil Spill Commission called for systemic reform in the oversight and environmental regulation of our oil and gas development process, saying that industry and political pressure had led to production being prioritized over protection of human health and the environment. Yet, each of these three bills irresponsibly prioritizes development and production at the cost of safety, science and the environment.

These pieces of legislation force decisions on drilling permits on arbitrary deadlines, and further undermine regulatory oversight. They eliminate meaningful analyses of potential environmental consequences, and force decisions based on production goals, rather than on science and the careful consideration of potential risks.

H.R. 1229 forces Secretarial consideration of drilling permits on a rushed and arbitrary timeline, and would automatically grant approval of permits if the Secretary fails to meet the deadline. H.R. 1230 denies the Department of the Interior the opportunity to conduct thorough and site specific environmental analyses and denies the public an opportunity to participate by forcing lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Coast of Virginia on a rushed timeline.

H.R. 1231 would force Interior to offer for lease sweeping areas of the outer continental shelf off the east and west coast, in the Arctic and Bristol Bay. It would require a doubling of current production without regard for other ocean values. This would not only open up vast new areas to oil and gas drilling without proper analysis of environmental risks, but again would incentivize production over safety. HR 1231 would also force taxpayers to foot half the bill for certain oil and gas exploration costs.

In our current fiscal climate, oil and gas companies, some of the richest corporations on the planet, do not need yet another subsidy. There are better ways to provide stability for consumers and cut our nation’s oil dependence. Despite claims to the contrary, more ocean drilling will not lead to lower gas prices. The only real solution to protect consumers from high and volatile gas prices is to reduce our oil dependency through more efficient cars and trucks, clean fuels, and transportation choices such as commuter rail.

By 2030, efficiency and other oil savings measures can save a total of 8 times more oil than opening new areas to drilling off America’s shores or in protected sensitive areas. Furthermore, ending tax loopholes and government handouts for Big Oil, and investing one cent per dollar of oil companies profit into ultraclean vehicle research and development, could help lower oil demand and reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

A year after the BP Gulf oil disaster, oil is still coming ashore. There is much work to do to restore the Gulf of Mexico and ensure that the jobs and economies that depend on a healthy ecosystem are sustained. These bills not only fail to address the lessons learned from the BP disaster, they double down on the strategies and flawed approach that led to the disaster in the first place. Instead, Congress should be working to implement the recommendations of the National Oil Spill Commission; ensure full restoration of the Gulf of Mexico; and promote a clean energy strategy to reduce oil demand.

Friday, April 1, 2011

My Congress Went Drilling And All I Got Was A Lousy 3¢

Summer is approaching and gas prices are climbing towards (and in some cases over) $4 per gallon. Must be time for the renewed calls for more domestic oil drilling. The problem is that domestic drilling will not reduce the price at the pump. Actually, that is a lie. It will reduce the price at the pump by $0.03 per gallon - yes, you read that right - 3¢ per gallon.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, if we drill ALL of our accessible oil in the Outer Continental Shelf, it will reduce the price at the pump by 3¢ per gallon by 2030. So in 19 years you'll reap the 3¢ per gallon benefit at the gas station. You can read the report here.

You can also read a more detailed and eloquent discussion on high oil and gasoline prices by Senator Jeff Bingaman who chairs the US Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Bills Introduced to Expand Offshore Drilling

On March 29, three different bills were introduced in Congress by Rep. Doc Hastings (WA) that would expand offshore drilling in the United States. These include the Reversing President Obama's Offshore Moratorium Act which would overturn Obama's recent decision to protect the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, eastern Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska's Bristol Bay from drilling through 2017

If you haven't already, please participate in Surfrider's Action Alert in support of the No New Drilling Act and forward to others in your network. This is the easiest way to communicate to your federal representative that you oppose new drilling off our coasts.

There is also a public comment opportunity open through March 31 on the 2012-2017 OCS Oil & Gas Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scoping process. Surfrider is submitting comments as an organization, but we encourage individuals to do so, as well. See suggested talking points below.

Suggested Talking Points:
1. We support the Obama Administration’s recent decision to defer new offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific, near Florida’s Gulf Coast, and in Alaska’s Bristol Bay until at least 2017. It’s critical we protect areas that have not been exposed to the risky practice of drilling--not only for the sake of the environment, but also to protect our economy from potential spills.
2. The Oil Spill Commission and the Obama administration have worked to ensure the oil industry is safer and more environmentally sensitive. We greatly appreciate these efforts, and we want to stress that the safest drilling is no drilling. We should work to protect our coasts permanently by reducing our oil dependence while transitioning to sustainable forms of energy.
3. Please consider not approving new leases in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic until after Congress adopts the recommendations of the Oil Spill Commission (see above for important points).
4. For future oil exploration, please consider the harmful environmental impacts of seismic surveying; and equally consider alternatives to seismic testing that will exist in the near future