More Americans Want Clean Energy, Not Oil Drilling

Prices at the pump may be falling but no one expects the days of cheap oil to return for long.  Regardless of gas prices, more Americans want our leaders to transition us away from oil by investing in clean energy.  In fact, a recent public opinion survey commissioned by NRDC shows that 72% of Americans believe our country has the technology to break our addiction to dirty fuels in favor of clean, smart, innovative energy solutions that will do just that -- while also creating millions of jobs and solving the climate crisis.

Some of the survey's notable findings include: 

  • 84% believe that higher gas prices mean we need to move away from our dependence on oil and toward renewable energy and energy efficiency.
  • 77% believe we are capable of developing energy alternatives to reduce our economy's dependence on oil and gas.
  • 72% believe we already have the technology to do this.

"When people are presented with a variety of energy choices, Americans want investment in clean, renewable energy to stabilize our costs and create a more sustainable future," noted NRDC's Dan Lashof.  These solutions -- like the wind, sun, and Earth's natural heat -- are available and Americans want us to start using them now.

The survey examined Americans' views toward a number of policies to address the country's energy crisis, and a majority of Americans -- even during a time of record gas prices last summer -- stated the following would make a "great deal of difference" in solving our energy problems: 

  • Improving fuel efficiency to an average of 50 miles per gallon (68%)
  • Investing in renewable energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy (68%)
  • Building more wind farms (64%)
  • Improving home efficiency (61%)

As I've said before, the way to get off oil is to improve energy efficiency as well as invest in renewable energy and new energy technology.  We need more choices for energy efficient cars, and ways to make our houses and offices more energy efficient.  Where it will work, we need more choices for ways to get around, like buses and trains.  We need to build our communities so people have more transportation choices.  

The biggest mistake we could make right now is to let dropping oil prices lull us into a false sense of security that causes us to backslide on our renewed commitment to cleaner energy sources.  Despite what Exxon and other oil giants would have people believe, more drilling is simply not a viable option.  Not only does America have too little oil off our shores to make a dent in supply, but drilling off our coastlines promises environmental and economic risks we cannot afford to take. (Be it tourism, commericial fishing or simply quality of life.)

Certainly, oil spills (like the recent one off Norway's coast) would be a clear and present danger to our beaches, coastal communities and marine life.  As a native Virginian -- and long-time surfer -- I'm particularly peeved by renewed interest in exploring for oil off the state's shores.  Earlier this week, at a conference in Williamsburg, industry officials, scientists and concerned citizens gathered to discuss the effects of allowing energy companies to again seek fossil fuels on Virginia's Outer Continental Shelf of the Atlantic Ocean after a two-decade hiatus. 

According to the news coverage, government leases for exploration and drilling off the coast would be sold in 2011 at the earliest, and that it would likely take five to 10 years more to produce any oil or natural gas.  (That's assuming that commercially viable reserves are found and that companies are willing to spend years and invest millions to go after them.)

Bear in mind that we're talking about an area that serves as a crossroads for endangered whales, including the humpback, sperm and North Atlantic right whale --which has a dangerous habit of colliding with ships.  The waters there also teem with Bluefin tuna, lured by the menu of smaller fish in nearby waters.  Dolphins -- which I've had the privilege of viewing up close from my surfboard on several occasions -- frolick in abundance there, along with sea turtles.  And my favorite seafood, the scallop, are found there in great quanitities.

Some people wonder what the harm is in simply looking to see if there's enough offshore oil to bother drilling.  Unfortunately, that would not be a benign activity.  Consider that exploratory work relies on powerful (i.e., LOUD) air guns, which are fired underwater.  The sound waves bounce off the ocean bottom, and listening devices aboard research ships then determine where "hydrocarbon traps" might be located.  Imagine trying to live (let alone breed!) in your own home with ear-splitting seismic blasts barraging your senses at all hours of the day -- you can bet the whales and other creatures won't like that.

Aside from the destructive consequences for wildlife, there's the actual drilling platforms that would pollute the air and discharge oil, grease, drilling fluids, sanitary wastes and waste mud.  And along with likely tanker spills (we're talking Hurricane Alley, after all), there's the often overlooked massive industrial development -- pipelines, floating production and storage facilities, shipping terminals, refineries and other infrastructure -- needed to handle raw petroleum products coming to shore. Don't know about you, but I don't want my favorite beach towns and surf spots to look like the industrialized oil-villes marking the western Gulf of Mexico.

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If your idea of beautiful scenery is the sun setting over a flaming oil rig or you long for the siren song of a tanker's horn, then perhaps Texas or Louisiana is calling for you.  As for me, I'll take my beach with a side of sea-life, serenity and clean surf.