Another Terrible Subsidy for the Offshore Oil Industry

Apparently it’s not enough that Congress already subsidizes the oil and gas industry with billions of taxpayer dollars.  Now, some senators want to hand over nearly a billion dollars more of our money, largely for harmful offshore exploration that the industry currently conducts itself.   

Such was the outcome of today’s meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  The bill in question (S. 916) would authorize spending $850 million of taxpayer money on oil and gas exploration, focusing on waters with the greatest production potential off the east coast, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and in the Arctic. 

Yet industry already intends to run surveys in the same areas.  For example, after DOI announced last year that it would open up the Atlantic coast to exploration, it received 9 applications for extensive surveys up and down the eastern seaboard.  If the bill ultimately passes, the federal government would hand over its $850 million to many of the same companies to conduct many of the same surveys – surveys that industry would otherwise have funded on its own.

To make matters (much) worse, these surveys have an enormous environmental footprint.  Industry typically relies on arrays of airguns, which shoot intense impulses of air into the water every 10 to 12 seconds for weeks or months on end.  Airgun arrays can disrupt feeding, breeding, and other vital behavior in endangered whales, and dramatically suppress fisheries, over vast distances of ocean. 

Senators Udall and Cantwell offered up two amendments today, one to strip away the money and another to protect commercial fisheries from harm.  The first amendment seemed to attract the support of Sen. Rand Paul, who rightly observed that Congress had no reason to subsidize the industry.  But in a closely divided Committee, the amendments were withdrawn and the measure passed as part of a larger bill. 

Now the language could come to Senate floor.  Preventing another mad giveaway to the wealthiest industry on earth is something that everyone, on both sides, should be able to support.  Right?

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