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

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Top House Republican to offer drilling bill

By Andrew Restuccia - 03/16/11 12:33 PM ET

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said Wednesday he will introduce energy legislation to speed up oil-and-gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and open other offshore regions to drilling as well.

Hastings held a hearing Wednesday on the Obama administration’s offshore drilling policies. It’s the first in a series of hearings on offshore drilling and gas prices -- issues that have moved up on the Capitol Hill agenda as turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa have driven up energy costs.

“Let me state very clearly that these hearings will lead to action by this Committee,” Hastings said. “As Chairman, I intend to introduce legislation to put the Gulf of Mexico back to work – and I intend to advance that legislation through this Committee. The Obama Administration seems unmoved by thousands of lost jobs, rapidly rising gasoline prices, and the threat these high prices pose to our economy – but this Committee will not sit idly by.”
While Hastings' comment is light on details, it nonetheless signifies that he is readying a legislative push after spending weeks deflecting questions about his specific plans.

To read more click here

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Who Has the Oil?

This graphic (click on it to expand) is from an article The GOP’s Oil Drilling Pipe Dream appearing in Frum Forum. The article states: "The notion that the U.S., which sits atop less than 3 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, can drill enough oil to drive down prices if the flow is interrupted from a region with 64 percent of the world’s reserves is a pipedream."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Surfrider Activist Witnesses Baby Dolphin Deaths.

Photo: Chuck Barnes
Surfrider Foundation predicted there would be long-term ecological impacts from the BP spill.  We wrote an article last fall predicting what would happen, but we had no idea there would be such a high rate of mortality among marine life several months after the spill.    By now, we have all heard about dead baby dolphins washing up along the Gulf at ten times the normal rate.  Scientists say the gestation period for dolphins is 11 months, meaning calves born now would have been exposed to oil and dispersants during the spill and while in the womb.

Apparently the federal government is testing the dead animals to determine the cause of death, and the results will be made public in a few weeks.    Here is a video and article about the deaths.

One of our "on the ground activists", Chuck, runs a blog about what is happening the Gulf post spill.  He recently posted some pictures he took.  It is absolutely heartbreaking...however, we thank Chuck for being vigilant and documenting what is happening in the Gulf.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spike in baby dolphins deaths in the Gulf

Baby dolphins, some barely three feet in length, are washing up along the Mississippi and Alabama shorelines at about 10 times the normal number for the first two months of the year, researchers are finding.

As now February 17th, seventeen young dolphins, either aborted before they reached maturity or dead soon after birth, have been collected on the coasts of the states in the past two weeks, both on the barrier islands and mainland beaches.

This is the first birthing season for dolphins since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; however, Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, said it’s too early to tell why they died.

Today the count is up to 24 stillborn or infant calves that have washed ashore in the two states.

What’s happening here falls under the formal designation of an Unusual Mortality Event, which requires special scrutiny by a panel of scientists and experts, and gives high priority to samples collected.

But scientists caution about jumping to conclusions because a number of factors can cause dolphin deaths.

We'll be keep our eye on this story as it develops. Stay tuned.

Read more:

17 Dead Baby Dolphins found in Gulf waters

Spike Reported in number of stillborn dolphins on coast

Fourth baby dolphin found dead on Horn Island

Baby Dolphin Deaths get fed's attention

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Federal Legislation Update

A number of bills have been introduced in Congress this session that would restrict or ban new offshore drilling or improve the regulation, safety, and oversight of drilling activities.

The strongest of these is the NO NEW DRILLING ACT (HR 261), which would ban all new offshore drilling in the United States. For more info on HR 261 and to participate in the Action Alert, please click here.

Some additional bills on offshore drilling are summarized below. We encourage you to call your congressman to ask him/ her to support the No New Drilling Act and other bills that will protect our coasts from offshore drilling.

Representative Garamendi (D-CA) introduced the West Coast Ocean Protection Act of 2011 (H.R. 612) to amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently prohibit the conduct of offshore drilling on the outer Continental Shelf off the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) introduced H.R. 501 to provide for the implementation of the recommendations of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The bill also includes elements from the oil spill response bill that the House passed in July of 2010.

Congressman Mike Thompson (D-North Coast) reintroduced legislation that would permanently prohibit oil and gas drilling off the coasts of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte Counties to protect the unique and dynamic marine environment along the northern coast of California.

Representative Holt (D-NJ) introduced the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act of 2011 (H.R. 492) to amend the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to require responsible parties to pay the full cost of offshore oil spills, and for other purposes. (1/26/11). Senator Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a similar version in the Senate: Big Oil Bailout Prevention Unlimited Liability Act of 2011 (S. 214)

Senator Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Trust Fund Act of 2011 (S. 215) to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to require oil polluters to pay the full cost of oil spills, and for other purposes. (1/27/11).

Senator Begich (D-AK) introduced the Resources of Oil Spill Research and Prevention Act (S. 204) to amend the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to permit funds in the Oil Spill Liability Trust to be used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Coast Guard, and other Federal agencies for certain research, prevention, and response capabilities with respect to discharges of oil, for environmental studies, and for grant programs to communities affected by oil spills on the outer Continental Shelf, and to provide funding for such uses and for other purposes.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lot of Talk, Little Action in Coastal Oil Spill Cleanup News

More frustration on the gulf coast tonight as we have few answers about what coastal communities see as major issues in their recovery from the BP oil spill. There were a lot of high hopes for a work session but in the end it seems like there are only more frustrations.

Part of a tar mat taken out of the surf of West Beach lies on the front table of the council chambers in Orange Beach. It is what so many are concerned with along the gulf coast.

Federal incident commander and Coast Guard Captain James Hanzalik has seen it before. "I've been doing oil spills for 25 years. It's not surprising that you may see something like this especially the large volume of oil that was spilled. It's historic."

It's one of the issues that state and local leaders from Alabama and Florida hoped would be addressed during a working session with Coast Guard and BP officials according to Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon. "Tar mats, they looked at me like a deer in the headlights. They did not acknowledge there was any tar mats out there. They told me to call them if I found one."


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) to Hold Hearings on New Leasing Plan.

BOEMRE (the agency responsible for making decisions about offshore oil drilling) will be holding public meetings around the country in coming weeks to take public comment on the next "5-year plan" in which they will analyze new drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Arctic Ocean.

Fortunately, on Dec 1 2010, the Obama Administration announced a deferment on new offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific, near Florida's Gulf Coast, and in Alaskas Bristol Bay until at least 2017. 

The upcoming meetings are chances to tell BOEMRE we support the Administration's decision to defer drilling; and that no new leases for drilling anywhere should be granted until after the recommendations of the Oil Spill Commission are adopted by Congress.  Some of the more important recommendations from the Commission report include:
  • Requiring better emergency response plans for offshore drilling operations
  • A stronger regulatory structure is in place to avoid spills. 
  • Ensuring science is used in decision-making about offshore leasing and allowing  chief scientists within the Interior Department to oversee leasing decisions
  • Lengthening the time for review of drilling applications to allow for more thorough assessment of the potential environmental and safety risks of the project.

 Below are some sample talking points you can include into your testimony:
  1. We support the Obama Administrations recent decision to defer new offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific, near Floridas Gulf Coast, and in Alaskas Bristol Bay until at least 2017.   Its 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.
  5. We want to thank the Administration, Department of Interior, the Oil Spill Commission, and BOEMRE for working to protect our oceans and coasts from devastating impacts of offshore oil drilling.  We applaud your efforts to hold the oil and gas industry to higher standards in hopes of preventing another destructive spill like we witnessed with the BP Deepwater Horizon.

Below is a list of meetings near your neighborhood:
  • Monday, February 14, 2011 at 7:00 pm- Kotzebue Middle-High School, 744 Third Avenue, Kotzebue, Alaska.
  • Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 1:00 pm- Houston Airport Marriott at George Bush International, 18700 John F. Kennedy Blvd., Houston, Texas
  • Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 7:00 pm: Point Hope School Library, Point Hope, Alaska
  • Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 1:00 pm: New Orleans Airport Hilton, 901 Airline Dr., Kenner, Louisiana, 
  • Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 7:00 pm: Point Lay Community Center, Point Lay, Alaska
  • Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 1:00pm: Five Rivers-Alabama’s Delta Resource Center, 30945 Five Rivers Blvd., Spanish Fort, Alabama
  • Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 7:00pm: Alak School Library, Wainwright, Alaska
  • Monday, February 21, 2011 at 7:00 pm: Inupiat Heritage Center, Barrow, Alaska
  • Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 7:00 pm: Nuiqsut Community Center, Nuiqsut, Alaska
  • Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 7:00 pm: Kaktovik Community Center, Kaktovik, Alaska
  • Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm: Washington Dulles Airport Marriott, 45020 Aviation Dr., Dulles, Virginia.
  • Friday, February 25, 2011 at 7:00 pm: BOEMRE Alaska Region Office, 3801 Centerpoint Dr., Anchorage, Alaska
If you would like additional help with talking points, please email Stefanie at:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Support the No New Drilling Act!

Congressman Frank Pallone (NJ) has reintroduced the No New Drilling Act (HR 261) which would prohibit new offshore exploration, development, or production of oil and gas. The proposed legislation is currently the ONLY bill in Congress that would ban all new offshore drilling in the United States.

Despite the tragic lessons of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the No New Drilling Act currently has only modest support in the House with a total of five co-sponsors. If you haven’t already, please participate in the action alert to ask your representatives to protect our oceans and coasts from drilling! Please also call your congressman to ask him/ her to co-sponsor the No New Drilling Act. Calling your representative is the most effective way to have your voice heard and to help advance this legislation.

Finally, in addition to the No New Drilling Act, there are a number of other bills proposed in Congress that would either strengthen regulations and/ or restrict new drilling activities. Please visit the forum on chapternet for more info and discussion.

Thanks for taking action!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Oil Spill Commission Report Finds Systemic Failure

The President's Oil Spill Commission, who was charged with determining the cause of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster and making recommendations to guard against future oilspills, released their report today.

The report is a scathing indictment of the industry for failing to have adequate response plans in place for rig blow outs and of the government for decades of lax oversight. The report makes it clear that the Deepwater Horizon spill is not an isolated incident, but the result of a systemic failure of the management and oversight of the offshore oil drilling industry.

Further, the report makes clear current practices put us in dire risk of another spill and calls for serious reform of the governments oversight of the oil industry. The report's conclusions can be summarized in three broad categories: managerial foul-ups, systemic failure and regulatory weakness. The report also suggests that the liability cap for oil spills should be dramatically increased and that most of the mitigation funding for the spill go the Gulf for restoration.

A more thorough summary of the recommendations can be found here

The report makes it clear that Obama's decision to prohibit leases in the continental US is a wise decision and is necessary to avoid another spill of this magnitude along our coasts.

See the statement released by Environment America and the Surfrider Foundation here.

More on the Oil Spill Commission and the full report can be found on their official site here.

More stories on the commission report:

Failure in the Gulf

Oil and Gas Journal - Spill panel: More government, industry reforms needed

Panel Spreads Blame For BP Oil Rig Explosion