Thursday, January 29, 2009

A false choice: Ocean conservation vs. energy development

Note: The following article appears in the January/February issue of Trends, a publication of the American Bar Association

A false choice: Ocean conservation vs. energy development
By Angela Howe, Legal Manager, Surfrider Foundation

New offshore drilling will neither meaningfully reduce our gasoline prices or increase our national security—however, it does pose a tremendous risk to the health and safety of our oceans and coastal environment. Most members of Congress understand this truth but succumbed to election year politics and allowed the 27-year moratorium on new drilling to expire. The debate about new offshore drilling has only one sure impact: it distracts the nation from developing an energy policy featuring efficiency and renewable energy, including renewable ocean energy. Fortunately, the new Congress convening in early 2009 will be well positioned to recover from the last Congress’ horrible misstep.

Abolition of the long-standing ban on offshore drilling will not solve our dependency on foreign oil. According to Congress’s own report on the issue, increased offshore production will not reduce reliance on foreign oil. Significant reduction of overall oil imports would require a drastic decline in the demand for domestic oil, particularly in the transportation sector. Congress raised vehicle fuel efficiency standards modestly in 2007, but has largely failed to shift the focus of federal energy policy toward those programs that would make major changes in fuel consumption.

Moreover, contrary to public perception, new drilling will not provide Americans with lower gasoline prices. In 2007, the Department of Energy reported that new offshore drilling would not exhibit any effect on gasoline prices for at least ten years, if ever. Since President Bush took office in 2000, the number of wells in federally-leased areas has increased exponentially, yet gasoline prices doubled during his time in office. Only recently have prices fallen sharply. Oil prices reflect global commodity market pressures, not the small, incremental supply from new wells on or off our shores.

The environmental threats associated with offshore oil and gas production form a nearly endless, tragic list. The most dramatic are the immediate and long-term ecological impacts from a large oil spill. But perhaps the most worrisome are the cumulative impacts on the marine, coastal, and human environments from drilling-related activities. Even if large spills can be avoided, the mere process of drilling harms the environment through damage to fragile coastal wetlands from production-related infrastructure and pipelines; physical damage to benthic marine communities; pollutant emissions, including lead, mercury, and cadmium; release of produced water containing dangerous levels of radioactive materials and carcinogens; and seismic exploration-related noise impacts on marine life.

Even assuming that the purported benefits of new drilling could be realized, a cost-benefit analysis supports the moratorium. Beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays are economic engines that drive large sectors of the national economy. Domestically, beach-going contributes up to $30 billion annually in economic well-being to Americans. Coastal recreation and fishing add another $10 and $26 billion, respectively. (See Linwood Pendleton at

New offshore oil drilling perpetuates a system that produces more polluting carbon dioxide, fewer jobs in new industries, and the degradation of our oceans. Investment in clean energy will allow the nation to reap benefits in the form of the growth of a new economy, the creation of new jobs, the potential for the United States to become an energy exporter, reduced dependence on oil, and protection of the environment. Who would we rather enrich, the oil companies or our communities?

To drill or not to drill is not the question we should be asking about using the oceans as an energy resource. Rather, we must view our oceans as a finite natural resource and ask how to responsibly protect and continue to use wisely the oceans’ wealth. Opening up offshore drilling not only threatens fisheries, public health, ecological diversity, and recreational opportunities, but it may also supplant opportunities for non-carbon based alternative energy, including the new and potentially beneficial technologies of wave and tidal energy. Because offshore ocean areas are immense resources with the ability to add greatly to the nation’s wealth through emerging clean energy technologies, we must take the long view. We should do the hard, serious work of engaging all stakeholders in coordinated planning and “zoning” of marine areas to find the right mix of protection and use of the oceans. We certainly should not sacrifice the potential for development of clean energy by committing our shores to the last century’s energy interests.

We all lose when political rhetoric and reactionary stop-gap measures get ahead of sound analysis and planning. Now is the time for the country to rededicate itself to a future of alternative energy development and protection of our oceans and coastal environment. It is time for Congress to restore the protection that our coasts have enjoyed for decades. Congress, as soon as you can, take our beaches back from the oil companies.

Interior: Hold Everything, Let's Think About This

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday 1/27 that the expansion of offshore oil drilling should be worked out with Congress as part of a broad energy blueprint and not independent action by his department. In an interview with The Associated Press, Salazar indicated the drilling plan the Bush administration left on his desk likely will be scrapped. It would open the entire Atlantic and Pacific coasts for drilling. More

Also see here

Friday, January 16, 2009

Schedule for New Offshore Oil Leases

As a follow up to the previous post (article in the San Francisco Chronicle on new offshore oil leases in CA), a schedule was recently published in the Federal Register listing the "Draft Proposed Program for 2010-2015 — Lease Sale Schedule" for the entire U.S. coastline. Hopefully the new administration will at least slow down this madness and shift the focus to renewable, non-polluting energy sources.

Sale No. -- Area -- Year
225 Eastern Gulf of Mexico 2010
215 Western Gulf of Mexico 2010
212 Chukchi Sea 2010
216 Central Gulf of Mexico 2011
218 Western Gulf of Mexico 2011
226 Eastern Gulf of Mexico* 2011
227 Central Gulf of Mexico* 2011
214 North Aleutian Basin 2011
219 Cook Inlet 2011
220 Mid-Atlantic 2011
222 Central Gulf of Mexico 2012
221 Chukchi Sea 2012
228 Southern California 2012
229 Western Gulf of Mexico 2012
230 Mid-Atlantic 2012
231 Central Gulf of Mexico 2013
217 Beaufort Sea 2013
232 North Atlantic 2013
233 Western Gulf of Mexico 2013
234 Eastern Gulf of Mexico* 2013
235 Central Gulf of Mexico 2014
236 Northern California 2014
237 Chukchi Sea 2014
238 Western Gulf of Mexico 2014
239 North Aleutian Basin 2014
240 South Atlantic 2014
241 Central Gulf of Mexico 2015
242 Beaufort Sea 2015
243 Southern California 2015
244 Cook Inlet 2015
245 Mid-Atlantic 2015
*Program area for lease sales would expanded

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Time to be Very, Very Afraid - and Involved

This graphic was part of an article published in the San Francisco Chronicle on December 29.

"The federal government is taking steps that may open California's fabled coast to oil drilling in as few as three years, an action that could place dozens of platforms off the Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt coasts, and raises the specter of spills, air pollution and increased ship traffic into San Francisco Bay.

Millions of acres of oil deposits, mapped in the 1980s when then-Interior Secretary James Watt and Energy Secretary Donald Hodel pushed for California exploration, lie a few miles from the forested North Coast and near the mouth of the Russian River, as well as off Malibu, Santa Monica and La Jolla in Southern California." More