Offshore Drilling: Dirty, Dangerous, and Unnecessary

If Congress is serious about delivering an energy package that strengthens the nation's economy, protects our communities and health, and lays the foundation for the future, proposals to expand offshore drilling must be taken off the table. Offshore drilling is a dirty, dangerous, unnecessary business that will only keep our nation tethered to the past. Instead, Congress should focus on investing in the clean energy solutions that will keep America competitive, cut dangerous pollution, and build a sustainable economy.

Here are five reasons offshore drilling proposals like Senator Warner 's S.1279 and Senator Murkowski 's S.1278 have no place in any final energy legislation:

Contradicts Climate Science: The international scientific consensus dictates that if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, including health risks and severe weather, the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves must remain undeveloped. This includes the oil and gas in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Illustrating this point, a report in the top scientific journal Nature specifically found developing Arctic Ocean oil and gas is incompatible with efforts to stay within our global carbon budget. Further, oil industry claims that Arctic oil may be needed 30 years from now assume continued oil-dependence scenarios that the International Energy Agency says will result in at least 6 degrees Celsius--three times what scientists state the planet can sustain. To avoid far more asthma attacks and respiratory disease, degraded air quality, and more frequent, costly, and deadly extreme weather events we must protect--not drill--the Arctic and Atlantic coasts.

Devastating Oil Spills:
The risk of major oil spills is high and the impacts severe. In the Arctic, the Department of Interior's own assessment finds a 75 percent chance of an oil spill should just the proposed drilling in the Chukchi Sea proceed. And in the likely event of a spill, none of the three primary oil spill response methods - mechanical containment and recovery, in situ burning, or dispersants - have been proven effective in harsh Arctic conditions. In fact, in even far less challenging conditions, less than 10 percent of the spilled oil has actually been recovered. The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster showed us that spill impacts are both environmentally - and economically - devastating. Following thiat spill, President Obama established the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The Commission found that "the central lesson to be drawn from the catastrophe is that no less than an overhauling of both current industry practices and government oversight is now required." Yet there have been NO major revisions to the law to increase safety since that disaster. Offshore drilling results in oil spills. The risks exposed during the Gulf disaster make it clear we can't gamble with our Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

Threatens Costal Communities and Economies: Drilling off the Atlantic coast has been off the table since 1983. Tourism and recreation are major contributors to the Atlantic coast's economy and they rely on healthy oceans. In 2012, those two sectors alone generated $40 billion in the Mid- and South-Atlantic regions. Communities in these regions should not have to risk their way of life - or their economic health - due to reckless offshore drilling.

While the Arctic is sparsely inhabited, a major spill there would be no less disastrous. An oil spill in the Arctic Ocean would decimate this rich ecosystem and the unique way of life it supports. Impacts would savage the Arctic's vulnerable food chain. Seals and seabirds would be coated in oil. Blowholes of endangered whales would clog. And pristine beaches - potentially including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - would be fouled. By poisoning the seabed on which all marine life in the Arctic depends - particularly if dispersants that spread a toxic oil-dispersant cocktail throughout the water column are used - we threaten one of the most unique, pristine places on the entire planet. Any oil spill in either the Atlantic or Arctic would throw regional economies into chaos and cause lasting damage to special ecosystems.

Public Prefers Clean Energy Solutions: Clean energy solutions like wind, solar and energy efficiency are here today. They are growing our economy and meeting our energy needs - without needlessly threatening coastal communities and worsening climate change. Since 2005, gasoline consumption has decreased 8 percent, reversing many decades of rising consumption. Federal fuel efficiency standards are expected to save 12 billion barrels of oil over the life of vehicles made between 2012 and 2025, and the overall efficiency of new U.S. automobiles is up 25 percent in the last decade. New transportation policies designed to reduce driving and accelerate electric vehicle sales could save the U.S. nearly 4 million barrels of oil annually by 2035. That's almost the same amount of oil, in a single year, as the Interior Department estimates can ever be recovered from drilling all our offshore waters from Florida to Maine. Current U.S. solar capacity has already surpassed EIA's AEO 3-year old estimates for 2030-- by 227%. Wind's success story is similar, and its potential enormous. Just one quarter of our nation's offshore wind potential would match our nation's entire existing fossil fuel-based electricity generating capacity. Clean energy is already surpassing past estimates, with no end in sight. Across the country, the public prefers by 2-1 federal investment in clean energy over dirty energy proposals like offshore drilling.

The Folly of Revenue Sharing:
These drilling proposals create perverse financial incentives. Some revenue-sharing schemes even send funds directly to states or coastal areas that pursue drilling closer to shore in what amounts to little more than a bribe to privilege Big Oil over other interests. Moreover, these schemes are often justified by arguing the funds are needed to mitigate the impacts of drilling, which in the same breath proponents argue don't exist. We should not be incentivizing coastal states and local governments to allow increased, more environmentally damaging drilling. Encouraging additional risky drilling invites disasters for our beaches, coastal economies and marine life. Offshore ocean areas beyond state waters are owned by all of the people of the United States, which was confirmed by the Supreme Court in 1947. As we saw with the BP oil disaster, offshore drilling can create extensive environmental and economic devastation that requires quick response. The federal government was responsible for addressing the BP disaster precisely because it occurred in federal waters. Revenue collected from federal waters funds federal departments and agencies that deal with such disasters when they occur. It would have been impossible for Louisiana to deal with the BP spill on its own - even if it had received additional funds from drilling. Incentivizing more drilling and then diluting our ability to respond to the inevitable spills is doubly irresponsible. These financial schemes encourage drilling with less of a safety net and fewer resources from the federal government in the event of a disaster, and provide sweeteners that keep our states and nation hooked on dirty energy.

Conclusion: If the Senate is serious about charting a course to a cleaner, healthier, more economically stable future, the path is clear: invest in clean energy solutions--including off-shore wind-- that create jobs, cut pollution and don't sacrifice our communities and our climate.

About the Authors

Franz Matzner

Director, Beyond Oil Initiative

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