Jan. 11, 2018

Off shore drilling and oil spills

Nearly 30 years ago the Exxon Valdez oil tanker slammed into Bligh Reef and spilled more than 11 million gallons of crude oil into the clear waters of Alaska's Prince William Sound damaging more than 1,300 miles of some of the most remote, wild shoreline in this country. The sound's coastal ecosystem is permanently damaged. Thousands of gallons of Exxon Valdez oil still pollutes the beaches; this oil is still toxic and still hurting the ecosystem near the shore. Pacific herring, one of the sound's keystone species, was once the source of a vibrant commercial fishery which declined so quickly that the fishery closed, and has not reopened decades later. During the spring their spawning would turn the bays and lagoons milky white. More than 40 species -- bald eagles, brown bears, seals, humpback whales, tufted puffins, murres -- depend on these small fish. Persistent oil poisoning, and a cascade of ecological effects, continue.

More recently, the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico discharged 5 million barrels and is still leaking. BP did not have the technology to deal with the deep water spill. Many offshore drilling sites still leak oil into the gulf. There's not much we can do now for Prince William Sound or the Gulf of Mexico, but we can keep from repeating our mistakes elsewhere. This is, after all, why we pay attention to history.

But that is not the case. The Trump administration said Thursday it would allow new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all United States coastal waters, giving energy companies access to leases off California for the first time in decades and opening more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke excluded Florida from his policy giving preferential treatment to Florida because they depend upon tourism for their economy. But many coastal states also depend upon tourism and commercial fishing for their economy. So maybe the preference has to do with Trump’s favorite golf course in Florida or maybe because Florida has a Republican governor. Either way, this smells of corruption and favoritism.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra used Zinke’s words to argue that California is also “unique” and that it’s “coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.” The California coast was the site of one of the nation’s most disastrous oil spills off Santa Barbara in 1969.

From a joint statement from the governors: “They’ve chosen to forget the utter devastation of past offshore oil spills to wildlife and to the fishing, recreation and tourism industries in our states. They’ve chosen to ignore the science that tells us our climate is changing and we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But we won’t forget history or ignore science. For more than 30 years, our shared coastline has been protected from further federal drilling and we’ll do whatever it takes to stop this reckless, short-sighted action.”

The spilled oil does not go away. It continues to wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems and wildlife. We were short-sighted for electing such a president and he is short-sighted in his approach to the environment and our children’s future.