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Which Would You Choose: Offshore Wind or Offshore Oil?

Frances Beinecke

Posted May 3, 2010

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Like all Americans, I am sickened by the news coming from the Gulf of Mexico. The oil spill is now 100 miles long and is moving toward the Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida coastlines.

As I watch coverage of the devastation, I am reminded of another energy story from last week: the approval of the Cape Wind offshore wind farm in the Nantucket Sound.

What a contrast these two energy projects make: The dirty, hazardous fuel that can swamp local communities versus the clean, sustainable energy that doesn’t spill.

 Oil spill

If I were an official in a coastal state, I know which one I would choose. I would reject President Obama’s plan for more offshore oil drilling and I would invest in renewable offshore projects that wouldn’t harm my state. 

offshore wind

I realize that oil and gas drilling has brought jobs and income to the state of Louisiana. It has helped fuel the state’s economy, but it is painfully clear that it also brings real risk.

Louisiana is home to 40 percent of America’s wetlands. Over the years, the oil support infrastructure has eaten away at those wetlands, with more and more being dredged to support offshore oil. I saw the erosion of the wetlands and coastal barriers first hand when I visited the region after Katrina. There have been cries to restore the wetlands for years, yet now another devastating blow has landed on one of the richest ecosystems in the nation.

The economy will suffer along with the ecosystem. A 2006 report found that the U.S. commercial fishing industry generated more than $103 billion in sales, provided $44.3 billion in income, and supported more than 1.5 million jobs. But these are jobs that rely on clean water and healthy fish--not oil slicks.

Fishermen in the Gulf know their livelihood is at stake. The State of Louisiana opened shrimp season early on Thursday in an effort to let shrimpers harvest as much as possible, but by Sunday, the federal government ordered a halt to all fishing in the oil-slick region due to public safety concerns. Fishermen who struggled to rebuild their business after Hurricane Katrina are worried they won’t rebound after this. Several Louisiana shrimpers have filed a class action lawsuit against BP, the owners of the oil rig, and its contractor Halliburton, for endangering their income.

There is, of course, yet another hazard that comes from a heavily reliance on offshore drilling: 900 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution for each barrel of oil we burn. While not as visible as the impact of the oil spill, carbon pollution could be just as devastating to Louisiana. Global warming could inundate Louisiana’s wetlands as sea levels rise and hurricanes become more ferocious. In the ocean, carbon dioxide becomes an acid that could make it impossible for Louisiana’s oysters and crabs to build the shells they need to reproduce.

In contrast, offshore wind farms do not pollute the water, air, or local communities. These renewable projects--which could provide power for plug-in hybrid cars--have a track record of success and reliability.

I recently blogged about my trip to offshore wind farms in Denmark, which generates 20 percent of its electricity from wind. At first, people living in nearby coastal towns were concerned that the wind farms would hurt their vibrant tourism and marina businesses. Yet that never came to pass.

Now, the mayor of one of the town’s told me, “We look back and wonder what we were so worried about.”

Sadly, that cannot be said for the communities along the Gulf of Mexico that are about to be turned upside down by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

As we watch the horrific spectacle of yet another oil spill ravage our waters, our wildlife, our fishing and tourism industries, we must ask, once again: what will it take to get our leaders to act?

We must pass a clean energy and climate bill that is designed to prevent tragedies like this in the future--legislation that will shift America away from oil, toward cleaner and renewable sources that can’t poison our coasts. The work has begun. It must move ahead now.








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Trent HeardMay 3 2010 02:38 PM

Wind power has been touted as the best thing since sliced bread by environmentalist. Just as the scientists who omitted negative data that would have countered their claims of global warming, wind advocates are are ignoring the facts. To keep ourselves educated about the truth, I have pasted a url where you can learn the facts about wind power and it's shortcomings.

MargaretMay 3 2010 02:39 PM

With the coal mining accident and now the Gulf oil disaster, it is, indeed, an opportune moment to develop an integrated approach to meeting our energy needs. We should begin with the most cost-effective strategy of all, conservation. We should consider all potential sources of energy, including nuclear, and not lurch unquestioning from one to another. Even renewable energy sources have downsides.


John LiffeeMay 3 2010 02:50 PM

I think this very funny meme currently high on the charts on kinda says it all:

BREAKING: Large Air Spill at Wind Farm. No Threats Reported. Some Claim to Enjoy Breeze.

Tracy AnnaMay 6 2010 10:13 AM

Thank you for a great commentary on this---my vote is for wind over oil any day!

J GreenMay 6 2010 10:27 AM

I vote wind and solar!

Solar FredMay 6 2010 09:18 PM

Great perspective, Frances. Guess there's something in the air, because I just wrote about the same thing on my blog, but more along the lines of solar.

I think this is an opportunity to make comparisons of oil and coal versus solar and wind. If you look at the issues side by side, I think people will be more inspired to do something rather than shrug and turn away.

See my post for the complete list of the complete list:

Thanks again.
Solar Fred

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