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Press Release

May 2006
Press contact: Elliott Negin, 202-289-2405
If you are not a member of the press, please write to us at nrdcinfo@nrdc.org or see our contact page.


With oil and natural gas prices at or near record highs, efforts are underway in Washington to open up the coastal waters off our nation's beaches to oil and natural gas drilling. Despite assurances by the energy industry, plans to end longstanding safeguards pose a serious economic and environmental threat to coastal communities.

Drilling in our coastal waters also would have a negligible effect on the price or supply of energy. Existing rules against drilling cover only a small portion of suspected natural gas and oil reserves, and according to the Department of Interior's own analysis, the vast majority of offshore gas and oil reserves already are available for development. More than 80 percent of oil and 75 percent of natural gas reserves are located in areas currently open to the oil and gas industry.1

Fortunately, there are faster, cheaper and cleaner ways that already have been proven to ease the energy price burden on business and consumers.

Helping customers reduce their demand for these fuels lowers bills without the lengthy delay or huge costs involved in drilling new coastal wells, and without the serious environmental risks. For example, constructing energy-efficient buildings and manufacturing energy-efficient heating and water heating equipment could save 300 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas over 50 years.2 That's nearly four times the Interior Department's mean estimate of the amount of gas located in the protected areas.3

Offshore Development Damages the Environment

Offshore oil and gas development can cause substantial environmental harm, such as:

Oil spills: According to the Interior Department, some 3 million gallons of oil spilled from offshore oil and gas operations in 73 incidents between 1980 and 1999.4 Coastal drilling infrastructure also is vulnerable to weather: During Hurricane Katrina, at least 9 major oil spills occurred, totaling more than 7 million gallons, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. That is about two-thirds as much oil as was released by the Exxon Valdez in 1989.

Water pollution: Offshore drilling operations generate massive amounts of toxic waste, an average of 180,000 gallons per well.5 They dump most of this untreated waste into the water.

Lubricants known as "muds" are used in large volumes. They contain toxic metals, including mercury, lead and cadmium. Significant concentrations of these metals have been found to contaminate coastal drilling sites.6 Mercury in particular has been found in very high concentrations around rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. This raises significant concerns about fish contamination.

Even the most modern coastal drilling operations generate hundreds of thousands of gallons of contaminated water a day that comes up out of the wells along with oil and gas.7 This toxic soup typically contains such pollutants as benzene, arsenic, lead, naphthalene, zinc and toluene, and can contain radioactive contaminants. Every major investigation of these discharges has detected petroleum hydrocarbons, toxic metals and radium in the water column down-current from the site.8

Lethal assault on whales and dolphins: Seismic exploration -- explosive blasts that map sub-sea rock formations to locate gas -- can be devastating to marine mammals such as gray whales, sperm whales, beaked whales and bowheads. Marine mammals use sound to navigate, locate food, avoid predators, find mates, and care for their young. Once platforms are up and running, drilling noise has been shown to harm certain whale species.

Destruction of coastal landscapes: Onshore infrastructure associated with offshore oil or gas development significantly damages the coast. For example, pipelines crossing coastal wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico have destroyed more acres of salt marshes than the total amount of marshland from New Jersey to Maine.9 Onshore oil and gas industrial facilities also can harm coastal economies that rely on tourism, recreation and fishing.

Air pollution: Drilling an average exploration well generates some 50 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx), 13 tons of carbon monoxide, 6 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 5 tons of volatile organic hydrocarbons annually. Each offshore platform generates more than 50 tons of NOx, 11 tons of carbon monoxide, 8 tons of sulfur dioxide and 38 tons of volatile organic hydrocarbons every year.10

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and online activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.


1. U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS), "Outer Continental Shelf Petroleum Assessment, 2003 Update," 2004.

2. NRDC, "A Responsible Energy Policy for the 21st Century," 2001, p. 32.

3. U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS), "OCS Petroleum Assessment 2003 Update," 2004.

4. MMS, "Gulf of Mexico OCS Oil and Gas Lease Sale 181, Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)," 2000, pp. IV-50.

5. MMS, "Gulf of Mexico OCS Oil and Gas Lease Sale 181, Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)," 2000, p. IV-50.

6. Id.

7. Id., p. IV-32.

8. Id., p. IV-32-33.

9. Boesch and Rabalais, eds., "The Long-term Effects of Offshore Oil and Gas Development: An Assessment and a Research Strategy." A Report to NOAA, National Marine Pollution Program Office at 13-11.

10. Id., p. IV-40.

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