Energy Fix Could Come at Huge Cost to Beach Communities, Local Economies; Faster, Cleaner and Cheaper Solutions Are Here Now, says NRDC

WASHINGTON (May 12, 2006) -- Next week a House committee will consider opening up coastal waters to natural gas drilling, which would seriously threaten the environmental and economic well-being of beach communities, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Earlier this week, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the fiscal year 2007 Interior and Environment spending bill offered by Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.) lifting a 25-year-old ban on coastal natural gas drilling. The amendment would allow rigs as close as 3 miles offshore from such vacation spots as the California coast, Cape Cod, the Florida Keys, the New Jersey shore, North Carolina's Outer Banks and the Delaware-Maryland-Virginia peninsula.

Reps. Jim Davis (D-Fla.) and Mark Foley (R-Fla.) plan to offer an amendment next week to restore the drilling ban. A final vote on the bill is expected on Wednesday.

"More than 100 million Americans visit our ocean beaches every year, and drilling there would mean toxic air and water pollution, tar balls and oil spill threats on a daily basis," said Heather Taylor, NRDC's deputy legislative director. "There are cleaner, faster and cheaper ways to meet our energy needs. We don't have to sacrifice our beach communities."

In return for this risk, drilling our coastal waters would have a negligible effect on the price or supply of energy, according to NRDC. Existing drilling limits cover only a small portion of suspected natural gas and oil reserves, and according to the Department of Interior's own analysis, the vast majority of offshore gas and oil reserves already are available for development. More than 80 percent of oil and 75 percent of natural gas reserves are located in areas currently open to the oil and gas industry.

Curbing demand for natural gas would lower bills without the lengthy delay or massive costs to drill new coastal wells, and without the significant environmental risks, Taylor said. For example, constructing energy-efficient buildings and manufacturing energy-efficient heating and water heating equipment could save 300 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas over 50 years. That's nearly four times the Interior Department's mean estimate of the amount of gas located in the protected areas.

Coastal Drilling Damages the Environment

Coastal oil and gas development can cause substantial environmental harm, such as:

Oil spills: According to the Interior Department, some 3 million gallons of oil spilled from offshore oil and gas operations in 73 incidents between 1980 and 1999.

Water pollution: Offshore drilling operations generate massive amounts of toxic waste, an average of 180,000 gallons per well. They dump most of this untreated waste into the water.

Air pollution: Drilling an average exploration well generates some 50 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx), 13 tons of carbon monoxide, 6 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 5 tons of volatile organic hydrocarbons annually. Each offshore platform generates more than 50 tons of NOx, 11 tons of carbon monoxide, 8 tons of sulfur dioxide and 38 tons of volatile organic hydrocarbons every year.

Lethal assault on whales and dolphins: Seismic exploration - explosive blasts that map sub-sea rock formations to locate gas - can be devastating to marine mammals such as gray whales, sperm whales, beaked whales and bowheads.

Destruction of coastal landscapes: Onshore pipelines and industrial facilities associated with offshore oil or gas development can cause significant damage to coastal habitat, including wetlands, and also can harm coastal economies that rely on tourism, recreation and fishing.