20 Years After Exxon Valdez, Offshore Drilling Brings Threat Closer to Home

Oil Spills are a Real, Costly Risk We Face in Light of the Recently Lifted Moratorium

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 24, 2009) – Twenty years after the massive Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska, oil spills still occur and the risk of them happening up and down the East and West Coast has increased after the more than three-decade moratorium on offshore drilling was lifted in the waning months of the Bush Administration.

Thousands of gallons of oil are spilled each year from Outer Continental Shelf drilling facilities, according to the federal government. As storms and hurricanes have intensified, the number of oil spills has increased. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita alone resulted in 125 spills of petroleum products from platforms, rigs, and pipelines related to offshore drilling, totaling 685,000 gallons.

Oil is toxic for most fish and other marine species and, according to the National Academy of Sciences, cleanup methods can only remove a small fraction of oil spilled in marine waters.

A statement follows from Wesley Warren, director of programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council:

“If the Exxon Valdez spill had happened on the East Coast, it would have extended from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Twenty years later, a threat like this is all too real if there is a green light for new offshore drilling.

“A disaster this close to home would mean not only that the haunting images of oil-soaked birds and beaches we remember from 1989 could now end up in the backyards of millions of Americans, but it would cost coastal economies millions of dollars. The repercussions could be devastating for our $32 billion commercial fishing and $60 billion ocean and coastal tourism and recreation industries.

“This anniversary should remind us that while more drilling in the OCS will not have a significant effect on gas prices, it could damage our beaches and coastal communities, hurt marine life and pollute our seas. Instead, we must invest in the clean energy and efficiency to jumpstart our economy, create jobs and lead to energy security.

“Let’s learn from the lessons the Exxon Valdez disaster taught us.”