Last week, the Department of the Interior (DOI) released an “Energy Burdens Report” that reads more like an exhaustive list of special requests made by the oil and gas industry than a government-written report. It summarizes which existing safety measures and environmental protections the Trump administration is planning to throw out in the name of speeding up dirty and dangerous offshore drilling and exploration. These plans are in complete disregard of strong and growing bipartisan coastal community opposition.
For the extensive number of local communities that oppose expanded drilling, the administration must seek permission from Congress for the most dramatic changes. But, with the introduction of H.R. 4239 in Congress and passage out of Committee – the administration is not only announcing its plans, Congress is attempting to move forward on an extreme package of bills that would expedite dangerous drilling and exploration in our oceans, risking our coastal economies and the vitality of marine ecosystems.
This is at odds with the over 140 coastal municipalities nationwide and governors from both political parties that have already spoken out against seismic airgun blasting and expanded offshore drilling. Despite opposition from the people and communities that have the most to lose, both DOI’s report and H.R. 4239 would attempt to fast-track seismic airgun blasting, the extremely loud and dangerous process used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean’s surface, by rolling back protections for whales, dolphins and other marine mammals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Seismic airgun blasting has been shown to harm whales, dolphins and other marine mammals, all in the shortsighted pursuit of offshore oil.
Beside the opposition, these proposals are confusing because oil companies don’t need more places to drill. Reading the DOI report, you might think the oil and gas industry is running out of places to exploit in areas already open to offshore drilling. You would be wrong. Oil and gas companies own over 2,300 leases and nearly 12.6 million acres which aren’t even producing oil right now. There’s no need to bring the risk of another BP Deepwater Horizon-like disaster to new areas like the Atlantic Ocean and areas off Florida’s Gulf Coast under moratorium, nor expand the risk to coastal communities along the Pacific Coast. Offshore drilling leads to spilling, with tragic effects that will last years, if not decades, devastating coastal tourism, real estate markets and vital fisheries.
You might think, with so much to lose and the predictable disaster of yet another spill, there’s a need for rigorous environmental reviews and safety protocols for areas where drilling is already occurring. You would be right. But the administration’s announcement and H.R. 4239 both suggest otherwise. The administration’s DOI report suggests eliminating the Arctic drilling safety rule and H.R. 4239 would block its implementation.
Plain and simple: Offshore drilling is at odds with thriving coastal tourism and fisheries that depend on healthy oceans and Washington needs to listen. Congress must reject H.R. 4239 and block the administration’s attempts to prioritize the oil industry over the needs of coastal communities.