Don’t Let Offshore Drilling SpOIL Coastal National Parks

James Island off the coast of Olympic National Park

NPS Photo by Danielle Archuleta

When a platform blew out off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, oil marred the shores of Channel Islands National Park, contributing to the deaths of thousands of seabirds and marine mammals. The beaches of Kenai Fjords and Katmai National Parks were slicked when the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground. And the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon explosion left oil gushing into the ocean for nearly 3 months, befouling every major island in Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Thanks to the Trump Administration’s proposed offshore drilling plan, 68 coastal National Parks abutting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and around Alaska and Florida’s coasts could now face that same harm, according to a new report by NRDC and the National Parks Conservation Association, SpOILed Parks: The threat to our coastal national parks from expanded offshore drilling.

The risks to our national parks is one more troubling piece of evidence that Secretary Zinke’s proposed drilling plan is out of step with the conservation mission of the Department of Interior—not to mention public opinion.These parks are meaningful pieces of America’s natural and historical heritage—so treasured that Congress afforded them some of the strongest protections possible. These parks provide escapes into nature for American families.  They preserve biodiversity and the habitat of many endangered species.  And they offer us a chance to connect with the past. Indeed, they’re so popular that they yielded 84 million visits last year, and generated $5.7 billion in economic output, supporting over 59 thousand jobs.

Over 1.3 million Americans have submitted comments opposing the expansion of offshore drilling to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in the last 90 days. Tens of thousands of local businesses and hundreds of thousands of commercial fishing families that depend on clean oceans share that view—along with more than 250 coastal municipalities, many Alaskan Native organizations, and the majority of coastal governors, hailing from both major political parties. Among elected representatives to our national legislative bodies, over 190 Members of the House of and 40 U.S. Senators have taken action to protect our coasts.

The Members of Congress and Senators who oppose drilling come from across the country, both from coastal and inland states and districts. They stand in solidarity with those most directly threatened by offshore drilling. They’re also looking out for their own districts’ interests too, opposing a proposal that would exacerbate climate change.

Developing new oil and gas infrastructure in these areas would lock-in oil production, perpetuating our reliance on petroleum-based energy. It would take decades to produce this energy—and we don’t have time to waste before we act on climate. We need to do the opposite. We need to quickly phase down our oil dependence if we’re to keep global warming within 2°C.

Trump claims we need this oil for our national security. That’s false. We currently export enough oil to meet one third of our demand, and that proportion is only forecasted to grow.  Expanding oil and gas drilling along our coasts means our workers get the danger, our coasts and communities get the damage, and our overseas competitors get the benefit. That’s not putting America first. It’s putting oil-industry profits first.

The NRDC-NPCA report illustrates one aspect of what’s at stake if the Trump Administration moves forward with its offshore drilling proposal:  68 parks will face a new threat. If oil harms these national treasures, it would harm America at its very core.

Last week, in a meeting with several environmental groups (to which NRDC was not invited), Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke reportedly spoke of a grand pivot away from “energy dominance,” toward conservation. Abandoning the Administration’s push to expand offshore drilling across the country would be a good down payment on returning to Interior’s core conservation mission, which the Trump Administration has, to date, so clearly abdicated in the name of padding oil industry profits. The public is demanding an end to new offshore drilling. It’s time for Secretary Zinke to steward our public lands: keep them from harm by the fossil fuel industry and instead preserve them over the long term by advancing a transition to clean, climate-safe energy.

About the Authors

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.