Six Million Gallons Pour Out So Far, Ranking Among Largest U.S. Oil Accidents

NEW YORK (September 15, 2005) -- Nearly six million gallons of oil pouring out of seven pipelines and coastal storage tanks ruptured by Hurricane Katrina amount to one of the largest U.S. oil spills in history. Yet despite this disaster-within-a-disaster, lawmakers in Washington are saying we should open up vast new areas of our nation's shoreline to more coastal oil drilling, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

"These spills should be a clear reminder of the inevitable risks that come with coastal drilling, especially in areas prone to hurricanes and tropical storms," said Lisa Speer, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council and an expert on marine environments. "Katrina is a giant warning sign for anyone thinking about coastal oil production in their area."

Suggesting that soaring energy prices might be Katrina's "silver lining," Texas Republican Congressman Joe Barton told reporters last week that "we could be drilling off the coasts of several other states."

Others say the elimination of current coastal protections might be tacked onto hurricane relief legislation. One plan would effectively bribe cash-strapped states to open up their shores to oil drilling by kicking back a share of revenue that would ordinarily go to the federal government.

Areas at risk include the Eastern Gulf of Mexico off Florida's heavily populated beaches. Also on the list are Virginia, California and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Even New Jersey could see rigs off shore.

"It's hard to imagine a more reckless response to a hurricane that generated major oil spills," Speer said. "These new drilling proposals would put millions of citizens in thousands of coastal communities at risk, threatening fisheries, wetlands, and the whole coastal economy."

Petroleum Nightmare

Gulf Coast wetlands are among the most sensitive ecosystems on Earth, harboring rich wildlife and serving as a crucial nursery for sport and commercial fisheries. Unlike the open ocean where spills can dissipate, oil can linger in wetlands for decades. Despite heroic efforts by the Coast Guard, less than 20 percent of the oil has been recovered.

Major spills so far involve facilities owned by Shell, Chevron, Murphy Oil and Bass Enterprises Production. Offshore, nearly 40 drilling rigs have been destroyed. Some washed up on local beaches, one crashed into a bridge, while others simply disappeared.

By comparison to Katrina, the Exxon Valdez oil spill -- America's largest -- dumped 11 million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound.

There is a Better Way

America has just three percent of world oil reserves, compared to 65 percent in the Persian Gulf. We simply can't drill our way to energy and economic security. But we can protect our economy and reduce the burden on consumers by reducing the amount of oil we need to keep our country moving.

It starts with better fuel economy performance. Passenger vehicles consume 40 percent of the oil we use, burning through eight million barrels every day. That consumption will balloon to nearly 12 million barrels a day by 2020. Raising fuel economy performance standards for SUVs and other light trucks by just 1 mile per gallon per year over five years would save a million barrels of oil per day by 2020.

"There are safer, cheaper, faster ways to address our energy security crisis," Speer said.