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Congress marks 1-year anniversary of Gulf oil disaster by forcing more drilling

Regan Nelson

Posted April 11, 2011

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As the 1-year mark of the nation’s worst offshore oil spill fast approaches, you might be surprised to learn that rather than taking action to prevent another deadly spill, Congress is instead proposing to expand offshore drilling while sidestepping environmental laws to do so.

On Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will seek to pass three bills that irresponsibly accelerate the very processes that the President’s National Oil Spill Commission found led to the BP Gulf oil disaster nearly one year ago.  By circumventing environmental safeguards and proper oversight of the oil and gas industry, Chairman Hastings, author of the three bills, would prioritize oil production over human health, worker safety and the vitality of our oceans and coasts. 

H.R. 1229 forces the Secretary of Interior to approve drilling permits on a rushed and arbitrary timeline, and would automatically grant approval of permits if the Secretary fails to meet the deadline.  As I’ve written previously, BOEMRE (formerly MMS) has been chronically underfunded, and imposing unwarranted deadlines would push the engineering and environmental reviews beyond the practical limits of the agency’s capabilities.  H.R. 1229 would also undermine the checks and balances of the judicial system by defining the location of courts that could hear civil actions against such permits, limiting judicial authority to decide a case, and eliminating attorney’s fees for civil actions.  Finally, this bill would give Big Oil yet another subsidy - in this case to conduct harmful seismic exploration.

H.R. 1230 would sidestep proper environmental analysis, and force lease sales that the Administration cancelled in the wake of the BP Gulf oil disaster, including off the coast of Virginia.  The Administration cancelled these lease sales in order to ensure it “learned lessons” from the Gulf disaster; yet as the Times-Picayune noted recently, Congress has failed to pass any substantial legislation after the spill and now is acting as if the nation’s worst oil spill never happened.   

H.R. 1231 would force new drilling off the Atlantic coast - from Maine to Florida, off the California coast, and in our nation’s most pristine environments, the Alaskan Arctic and the fishing mecca of Bristol Bay.  It would require a doubling of oil drilling over current levels, without any regard for the jobs and businesses that depend on healthy oceans and coasts to thrive.  Below is a map of areas that would be forced to offer oil and gas lease sales starting in 2012 (all blue and green areas would be available for drilling).


So what is the intent of such reckless legislation?  Chairman Hastings claims his goal is to create jobs and lower gas prices. 

Would such legislation create jobs?  Sure, it would.  But how many jobs would it put at risk?  A forthcoming study done for NRDC by Yale graduate students found that in the Gulf of Mexico, for every 1 job in the oil and gas sector, there are 84 jobs in the Leisure and Hospitality sector alone.  This does not include jobs associated with the lucrative recreational and commercial fishing sectors.  So how many jobs do we put at risk when we drastically increase the number of wells drilled? 

It should also be noted that the Gulf of Mexico is already producing record amounts of oil, even in the wake of the BP disaster. By October of 2010, the region had churned out 502 million barrels of oil. That’s on track to match the 569 million barrels from 2009 and well beyond the 422 million from 2008. Plus, 39 shallow-water permits have been approved since the new safety standards were implemented.

Would such legislation reduce prices at the pump?  No.   Well, let me correct myself here:  it might reduce prices by a few pennies….in 2030.

As much as we wish it weren’t so, the US does not control gas prices – the world market does. 

As my colleague Deron Lovaas explains, oil production has been on the rise in the U.S., but prices aren't budging.  And that’s true even for countries that have enough oil to supply their own demand.  Canada produces a lot more oil than they consume, but prices there track ours here. The UK produces almost as much oil as they consume, but their prices track the global oil price, too.

In the US, we can’t even come close to supplying our own existing oil demand.  The U.S. is home to less than 2 percent of the world's proven reserves of oil, yet we consume nearly 25 percent of the world's oil.  Another way to look at it - if you divide our 2% of reserves (19 billion barrels) by our daily consumption (19 million barrels), you find that we’ve got about 1,000 days worth of oil in the ground. So, by draining out every drop of known oil in this country, we'd have enough to independently supply our demand for a whopping three years.

It's foolish and delusional to think we can drill our way out of this.  Instead, as my colleague Luke Tonachel shows, 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.

So, instead of commemorating the 1-year mark of the nation’s worst oil spill – and the death of eleven workers – with irresponsibly accelerating new dirty and dangerous ocean drilling, our lawmakers should be focused on increasing the safety of offshore drilling by implementing the recommendations of the Oil Spill Commission, and by working out a clean energy strategy to end our addiction to oil for good.

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David MalinskiApr 13 2011 12:01 PM

Legislators are being battered on both sides of this debate.

From the industry lobby, they are getting much needed campaign contributions and requests to permit them to earn more funds to distribute in the future.

From some of their constituents they are being berated for permitting more oil exploration and drilling. I say some as most of the legislators are elected with less than 50% of the popular vote, indeed some are in their positions with as little as 30%. This makes any 'complaints' base approach to changes a non-starter.

Sadly the reality is that people will have to truly take personal action. Such as supporting legal action cases against the industry's that are doing the damage. Also they may simply vote with their wallets and donate to clean-up operations or legal defense funds.

Ultimately having any dependence on current government officers or structures to fix the current problems is a waste of energy.

No problem will ever be solved by the mind that created it. I extend that with 'system' for 'mind' when speaking of governance issues.

Only one way to fix this, get out there and DO IT.

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