The catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has caused an outcry against President Obama’s plans to end the moratorium that prevented oil drilling off some of America’s pristine coastlines. Some national politicians have even been moved by the catastrophe to change their position on offshore drilling. But not, apparently, our president.
White House energy adviser Carol Browner made it very clear that President Obama remains committed to opening new areas of America’s coastlines to drilling for oil, despite the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Lessons from the Deepwater Disaster, which continues to spew as much as 5,000 barrels of oil — over 200,000 gallons — into the Gulf every day, will be “folded in” to the Interior Department’s review of new leases, she said.
This morning, White House senior adviser David Axelrod was on TV to do a bit of clarifying. He said that in the wake of this tragedy, “All [President Obama] has said is that he’s not going to continue the moratorium on drilling but… no additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique and preventable here.”
That’s certainly welcome news, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. President Obama needs to reinstate the moratorium on offshore drilling to ensure a disaster like this doesn’t threaten any more coastal communities and ecosystems. Because despite assurances from the oil industry that new technologies have made “accidents” that result in oil spills less likely, the BP/Transocean Deepwater Disaster shows that’s simply not true. It’s not a matter of if another spill will occur, but when — and where.
Unfortunately, Shell has already been awarded a lease to do exploratory drilling in 2.7 million acres of the Chukchi Sea, off of Alaska’s northern coast, within prime hunting grounds for the Inupiat people and a critical migration route for endangered bowhead whales. Shell just received a key permit for the project from the EPA last month, and plans to go ahead with drilling there this summer even though this is a very fragile ecosystem where conditions would make cleanup so difficult that the Coast Guard has described a major oil spill there as a “nightmare scenario” that it does not have the capacity to deal with.
On paper, the Gulf should have been the one place on earth where authorities are prepared to deal with oil spills, with plenty of manpower and spill response equipment close at hand. We’ve seen how difficult it has actually been over the past week, though, as all attempts to stop the spill from making landfall have so far failed. I shudder to think what it would mean if this had happened in the remote, pristine waters of the Arctic.
If we’re hoping President Obama will change course, however, it’s probably not a good sign that he has been spouting Big Oil’s own talking points on the matter. In justifying his decision to end the moratorium, for instance, the president has repeated the myth that Hurricane Katrina didn’t cause any oil rig spills because oil rigs these days are simply too darn fail-safe. He once told a crowd, “It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore.” Yeah, not so much, Mr. President.
Hopefully the very real catastrophe we are witnessing in the Gulf will open our president’s eyes to the reality of the oil industry, and he will act in time to prevent this from happening in the Chukchi Sea as well. No matter how the industry’s PR machine spins it, oil is intrinsically a dirty business, and there is no technological fix for that fact. President Obama needs to reinstate the moratorium on offshore drilling immediately and take decisive action to replace dangerous and dirty fossil fuels with safe and clean renewable energy.
Image credit: Sean Gardner/Greenpeace