Thought the debate over offshore oil drilling ended when Sen. John McCain's drill here now message lost to President Obama's green energy message in the 2008 election?
In 2008, both President Bush and Congress allowed a federal ban on offshore oil drilling to expire, opening new areas along the U.S. coasts to exploration.
This week, Obama's new Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar put the brakes on new offshore oil drilling by adding five-month public comment period to the Bush plan to expand drilling at 12 locations on the outer continental shelf. The move, not surprisingly, was heralded by environmentalists as a sign that Obama was delivering on his promise of "change."
They also warned, however, that the delay doesn't stop offshore oil drilling, and the risk of spills continues.
A day later, ocean advocates, including actor Ted Danson, a longtime board member of Oceana, appeared before a House subcommittee to argue for limitations on offshore oil drilling and other threats to the oceans, including overfishing and global warming. Their first and biggest message: reinstate the decades-old ban on offshore drilling that had been in place until record-high gas prices built political pressure on Congress to let it lapse.
"Oil and water simply don't mix," said Danson. "While not intentional, oil spills do happen and they harm everything from the smallest ocean organisms to the largest predators in the sea."
Just last year, Hurricane Ike -- one of several Gulf hurricanes -- ruptured oil platforms and pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil. And even that staggering amount is only 5% of the oil spilled by Hurricane Katrina. Other spills have been documented, too, for reasons other than natural disasters, like an Exxon spill of PCB oils last year, and Danson said that 120 million gallons are spilled annually.
Building additional oil platforms would put more regions at risk of spills during large storms, and though the science is still unsettled on this point, global warming could be spawning more frequent or intense hurricanes compounding the risk. Burning oil and other fossil fuels, of course, is the major causes of global warming, making oil drilling a disaster-in-waiting on several levels.
Burning fossil fuels not only warms the oceans -- which threatens many marine species on its own -- but the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere causes ocean acidification, which is an even more dire, immediate threat, according to many scientists. The growing acidity of the oceans can prevent marine creatures from forming shells. While much attention is paid to the threat to corals, which incubate so much ocean life, as the tiniest shelled creatures, plankton, succumb, the entire ocean food web could be compromised.
"Offshore drilling only looks good from an oil executive's office," Danson said.
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