The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog

CEO Note: A Major Victory Against The Keystone Oil Pipeline

It’s easy for conservationists to feel like David in the fight against the Goliath. And although the smaller contestant won that biblical battle, before he did, David must have had moments of doubt. But we got news this week that shows that smart conservationists can effect real change, even against powerful opponents.

On Thursday, the Obama Administration announced it will delay the infamous $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline project, which would have brought 900,000 barrels of tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, crossing 1,700 miles of American heartland.

Many conservation organizations have worked to stop this disastrous project, which will now enter a long and thorough review process. I must especially congratulate the Sierra Club, 350.org, Tar Sands Action and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which took a leadership role and planned last weekend’s peaceful protest at the White House. This was a sterling example of grassroots organization nabbing an important victory. We must also thank President Obama for listening and making the right choice.

Oceana got some good news from the federal government this week, too, when the administration announced its latest five-year offshore drilling plan. The U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as the eastern Gulf of Mexico, will continue to be protected from drilling.

But we still have a fight ahead. The five-year plan still leaves the U.S. Arctic and the rest of the Gulf of Mexico open to drilling, barely more than a year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Oceana continues to fight dangerous drilling, as well as the misinformation like the notion that the United States can drill its way to $2 a gallon gas. American oil is sold to us at the world price, which is set through the balancing of global supply and demand. Domestic resources of oil are too small to play a significant role in world pricing.

Your help sustains us in the effort to win sensible, fact-based policies that protect the oceans. Thank you again.


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CEO Note: No More Handouts For Oil Companies

Andy Sharpless is the CEO at Oceana.

What will lower your gas prices at the pump?

If you were to listen to national politicians and the marketing of the oil and gas industry, they would tell you that increased domestic drilling will lower your gas prices – and that tax breaks for oil companies will help get us there.

But this simply isn’t true, and it’s been proven time and time again. Oil is a global commodity hunted and extracted by multinational corporations who will sell the oil to the highest bidder, not simply to the citizens of the country where the oil was found. What’s more, the U.S. is a relatively oil-poor country – estimated to have 2 percent of world oil reserves – so even extracting all its oil resources will affect pump prices only by pennies, and will take a decade to be realized.

The oil industry is currently enjoying $4 billion a year in tax breaks from the U.S. government. Surging profits this year for the industry – up 74 percent to more than $100 billion – show that it could easily pay its fair share of taxes. Even if we weren’t currently having a national conversation about balancing the federal budget, this policy is not sensible.

So it was with pleasure last week that I stood outside the U.S. Capitol along with five U.S. senators, six representatives and the Sierra Club to speak out against tax subsidies for oil companies.

By ending billions in tax breaks for oil companies, the U.S. government will protect American taxpayers as well as our beaches, paving the way for a clean energy future.

We'll continue to fight for this crucial change. Your support makes it possible.


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CEO Note: Another Step For Safer Seafood

Great news! On Friday, Marketwatch reported that another chlorine plant will stop polluting the atmosphere and waterways, and ultimately our seafood, with dangerous mercury.

The chlorine plant, owned by chemical giant PPG and located on the Ohio River in West Virginia, would be the eighth to stop using mercury-polluting technology since Oceana started our campaign. When we began our campaign, nine plants in the U.S. used outdated technology that resulted in mercury pollution; with PPG’s announcement, just one mercury-based plant remains.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that can harm the development of children. It has become so prevalent in seafood that the federal government advises women of childbearing age and children not to eat swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish or shark, and to limit eating albacore tuna, because they contain high levels of mercury.

Oceana has also been active in combating mercury contamination internationally. Recently, Oceana board member and entrepreneur María Eugenia Girón wrote about Spain’s decision to finally issue a formal advisory about mercury in seafood after pressure from Oceana.

We’re dedicated to ensuring we have safe, healthy, abundant seafood around the world. Once again, your support helps make this possible. Thank you!


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CEO Note: Victory! West Coast Shark Fin Ban Complete

I’m thrilled to report that as of this afternoon, the entire U.S. West Coast has now banned the trade of shark fins.

After months of work by Oceana and our allies, California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill banning the trade of shark fins, joining the ranks of a growing number of governments rallying to protect the top predators in the oceans. Washington State, Oregon and Hawaii have all passed similar bans.

As Oceana shark spokesperson January Jones and I wrote in the Huffington Post, each year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins, mostly to make shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. Shark finning is a shocking practice in which a shark's fins are sliced off at sea and the animal is thrown back in the water to bleed to death. Shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, but that didn’t stop the shark fin trade.

According to government data, approximately 85 percent of dried shark fin imports to the United States came through California last year, making California the hub of the US shark fin market. Thanks to Governor Brown, this will no longer be the case.

Sharks have been on the planet for more than 400 million years, but populations around the world are crashing. They play a vital role in maintaining the health of ocean ecosystems, but due to their slow growth rate and low level of reproduction, sharks are especially vulnerable to fishing pressure.

We couldn’t have scored this monumental victory for sharks without you. Thanks to all of you for helping protect the oceans’ top predators.


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Californians: Tell the Governor to Protect Sharks!

shark photo

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.

Calling all Californians: Right now your Governor, Jerry Brown, is considering legislation that would effectively end the trade of shark fins. As you’re probably aware, trade in shark fins facilitates the practice of shark finning, which is one of the single biggest contributors to the collapse of shark populations around the globe.

The California State Senate passed a bill to end the trade in California, A.B. 376, earlier this month and we expect the governor to sign or veto the bill this week, so your rapid input is critical.


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CEO Note: Calling on President Obama and Congress to End Tax Breaks For Oil Companies

Last night in his speech before the joint session of Congress, President Obama asked this important question:

“Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers?”  

The stakes are significant.  The multi-national oil companies receive more than $4 billion in tax breaks every year from the United States, according to The New York Times.

And of course international companies like Exxon, BP, and Shell spend hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbyists and political campaigns in the United States to ensure that they keep those American tax breaks.

Earlier this year, President Obama tried to reduce the tax breaks handed out to oil multinationals, but Congress refused to consider it in this spring’s budget talks.

And all the while, oil companies continued to spend some of their record profits on perpetrating the falsehood that Americans need them to keep drilling in the American ocean and the American Arctic in order to save us money at the pump.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it. Increased domestic drilling will have little to no effect on your gas prices, because the price of oil is set on the international market. Surging international demand, or reductions in international production, has a much bigger effect on your gas prices than do slow and incremental changes in domestic production. 

Moreover, when we expand domestic drilling and allow hazardous actions like BP took last year in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, we take all the environmental risk at home, but share any oil finds with the international market. Does that seem smart to you?

The international oil companies want Americans to believe that if we let them drill enough, and give them big enough tax breaks, the American price of gas will drop. The facts show that’s not true.

Offering oil companies tax breaks in the hopes they’ll lower your gas price is like offering your teenager a bigger allowance in the hope they’ll take smaller portions at dinner.


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CEO Note: Nearing A Full Shark Fin Ban on the West Coast

While in 2010 the United States banned shark finning - the act of slicing off a shark's fins at seas and throwing the bleeding torso overboard to die - it has still allowed the sale and possession of shark fins, encouraging import and a market for the fins. Shark fins are primarily used in shark fin soup.

On Tuesday, the California Senate passed a bill to ban shark fin sale, trade, and possession. It awaits the governor's signature. Oceana joined the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Humane Society of the United States and Wildaid in support of this legislation.

This legislation builds on precedent and the momentum of Oceana’s work to protect sharks around the globe, including the U.S.’s ban passed last year, and a national ban on finning in Chile passed this July. The California bill joins similar legislation passed this year in Washington and Oregon, and last year in Hawaii. This coastwide action will help to lessen the demand for shark fins, and thus help save sharks across the globe that are slaughtered by countries with few or no regulations.

Up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, including rare and endangered species. But with this legislation, we are making major progress in saving the oceans' top predator and one of the most ancient creatures in the sea.

If you're a California resident, you can help us. Place a phone call to Governor Brown's office to ask him to pass this bill, AB 376, by Oct. 9 in order to become law. You can reach Governor Brown's office at 916-445-2841.

With your support, we continue to win victories like this for our oceans. Thank you.


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CEO Note: Our International Leaders Speak Up

Oceana is a truly international organization, with campaigners at work in places from Alaska to Chile and Europe. And our leadership reflects that international agenda. We’re fortunate to have the vision of board members from around the world.

In the past week, two of our board members have spoken up on our behalf with essays in the Huffington Post, and I wanted to share their insight with you.

María Eugenia Girón is a Spanish business leader as well as Oceana board member, and she reported on Oceana’s successful battle to get the government of Spain to issue mercury warnings on certain seafood. Spain is one of the world’s largest consumers of seafood per capita, so the warning is much-needed. The announcement came after Oceana was forced to sue the Spanish government to release its own reports that show high levels of mercury in Spanish seafood.

María writes in the Huffington Post:

As a Spaniard, I'm proud of our seafood tradition. Unfortunately, as a mother, I'm worried. There's a downside to our seafood habit: studies have shown that the mercury level in our blood is 10 times that of the average level in the US and in other countries.

The next step is to get Spanish grocery stores to post mercury warnings, much like the stores on Oceana’s Green List in the U.S. have done after our prodding.

Our chairman, Dr. Kristian Parker, is a marine biologist and citizen of Denmark. He reported on Oceana’s summer expedition in northern Europe’s Baltic Sea. He writes:

Despite being surrounded by some of Europe's oldest cities, such as Stockholm and Copenhagen, the Baltic Sea doesn't get too much global attention. That's a shame, because the Baltic has provided fish for millions of people since the days of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, the sea is increasingly sick as a result of decades of pollution and overfishing.

The Baltic Sea expedition was the first of its kind launched by a nonprofit; the crew of campaigners and scientists covered 7,000 nautical miles, some of it in absolutely frigid conditions. Now back on shore, we will analyze all the good data the crew gathered to help make the case for additional protections for this important source of seafood in Europe.

Several other members of our board of directors, including board president Keith Addis and Susan Rockefeller, have also spoken out on Oceana’s behalf. Their commitment to the future healthy and vitality of our oceans is greatly appreciated, as is yours.


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What if an Oil Spill Happened in the Arctic?

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.

Less than a year after the Deepwater Horizon gusher was finally sealed, oil companies are claiming they can drill safely in the Arctic Ocean, an even more fragile and forbidding environment than the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, our government seems to be suffering from amnesia, too.

This month, Shell Oil received a conditional approval from the federal government to drill four exploratory wells next summer in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. The company claims that it can end a gushing spill like the Deepwater Horizon in just 43 days and clean up 90 percent of oil lost.

These claims aren’t based in historic experience and have little scientific evidence to back them up. Crews were only able to recover 10 percent of the oil escaping the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico last summer, and only 8 percent of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill.

The most recent oil spill drill in the Beaufort Sea was in 2000 and was described as a “failure.” Mechanical systems like skimmers and booms in calm but icy conditions simply didn’t work. The technology has not improved since then. Just watch this video of a failed cleanup test:


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CEO Note: The Arctic Still Isn’t Safe From Oil Spills

Less than a year after the Deepwater Horizon gusher was finally sealed, oil companies are claiming they can drill safely in the Arctic Ocean, an even more fragile and forbidding environment than the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, our government seems to be suffering from amnesia, too.

This month, Shell Oil received a conditional approval from the federal government to drill four exploratory wells next summer in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. The company claims that it can end a gushing spill like the Deepwater Horizon in just 43 days and clean up 90 percent of oil lost.

These claims aren’t based in historic experience and have little scientific evidence to back them up. Crews were only able to recover 10 percent of the oil escaping the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico last summer, and only 8 percent of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill.

The most recent oil spill drill in the Beaufort Sea was in 2000 and was described as a “failure.” Mechanical systems like skimmers and booms in calm but icy conditions simply didn’t work. The technology has not improved since then.

Watch the video of the failed cleanup test here.

Furthermore, the Arctic is an incredibly harsh place. The Gulf of Mexico was surrounded by thousands of first-responders within a few hours’ travel, and it has year-round temperate weather. The nearest Coast Guard response facility is 1000 air miles from the Beaufort Sea. The Arctic is only a hospitable working environment for a few months in summer. Ice and weather could easily make rescue working conditions far too dangerous for crews, leaving a nearly-pristine ecosystem that is home to Inuit people destroyed during an uncapped oil spill.

We’ve won major victories against offshore drilling, especially last year when President Obama announced that the new five-year plan for offshore drilling removed thousands of miles of U.S. ocean from consideration, including the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

But the Interior Department’s approval of Shell’s plan shows that we still face an uphill battle, even when the facts show that increased drilling won’t reduce gas prices at the pump.

We have campaigners and scientists at work in Washington, D.C. as well as in Alaska who are closely monitoring the oil companies’ plans to drill in one of the last great ocean ecosystems. With your support, we hope to win more protections to keep our coasts safe from oil spills.


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