Blog Tags: Offshore Drilling
To the editor:
This letter is in response to the July 24 article titled, “Dolphin dies after beaching in Ocean City.”
UPDATE, Friday, July 26. 10:40 AM: On Thursday evening, officials stated that the gas was cut off on the burning Hercules 265 drilling rig. The only remaining fire is a small flame fueled by residual gas at the top of the well. However, these recent leaks and explosions should remind us that offshore drilling is"inherently risky," and that blowouts "aren't that infrequent." Those quotes are from Michael Bromwich, the former chief of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and its predecessor agency, the Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management Regulation and Enforcement.
"These all should be learning exercises," Bromwich went on to say. "What went wrong here? Were there errors in human judgment? What remedial or corrective actions should be taken by the company, and what can the industry and what can the regulators learn?"
To us, the lessons are clear -- shift away from dirty and dangerous fossil fuels, and towards clean, safe and forever renewable sources of energy like offshore wind. If we want to prevent these disasters in the future, we must reject offshore drilling outright. We urge you to sign our petition telling President Obama to reject seismic airgun testing and future offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.
In a House Natural Resources Committee meeting last week, Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey expressed his strong opposition to proposed seismic airgun testing along the Atlantic coast, and even delivered a question on seismic testing from Oceana directly to Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell. Pallone, a senior member of the committee, stated that because he is “staunchly opposed to drilling in the Atlantic,” he is against the proposed seismic airgun testing for oil and gas in the region. Seismic airgun testing, which uses dynamite-like blasts of compressed air to search for fossil fuels under the ocean floor, is the first step towards offshore drilling for oil and gas. A proposed plan for seismic airgun testing will span the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware to Florida.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R.2231, the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act, a reckless bill that would nearly double U.S. offshore drilling, force new lease sales off the coasts of Virginia, South Carolina and Southern California, and gut critical environmental safeguards. H.R.2231 is yet another giveaway to Big Oil that puts offshore drilling above all else while gutting critical environmental safeguards and doing nothing to make us more energy independent.
In a speech today at Georgetown University, President Barack Obama laid out his climate plan for the United States moving forward in the months, years, and decades ahead. Oceana was pleased to hear President Obama promoting clean energy like wind and solar energy, but wishes that he had also mentioned offshore wind – a form of energy that is safe for our oceans and its creatures, and forever sustainable.
Puffins are rightfully dubbed the “clowns of the ocean” from their animated appearance, but sadly, they might instead serve as the “canary in a coal mine” warning us about climate change threats to the ocean.
The ocean is warming up in the Gulf of Maine from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia where ocean temperatures have hit a 150-year high, and these abnormally warm waters are altering marine food webs. Many fish species are moving into deeper and colder waters, and some are being replaced by fish from the south.
Yesterday, Belize’s Supreme Court declared offshore drilling contracts issued by the Government of Belize (in 2004 and 2007) null and void, providing a dramatic and potentially definitive setback to The Government of Belize and the petroleum prospecting companies issued the contracts.
The ruling, handed down by Justice Oswell Legall, was in response to a case brought by Oceana, COLA, and the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage. It effectively ends the Belizean government’s immediate effort to allow offshore oil drilling in the Meso American Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd Vice President of Oceana in Belize lauded the court’s decision:
“This is a great day for the people and country of Belize and its democratic process and it shows that we, as ordinary citizens, need not sit back and only complain about all the wrong decisions our Government makes, but that we can use the Judiciary system to settle them.”
The court overturned the contracts after determining that the government failed to assess the environmental impact on Belize’s ocean, as required by law, prior to issuing the contracts. The court also found that contracts were made to companies that did not demonstrate a proven ability to contribute the necessary funds, assets, machinery, equipment, tools and technical expertise to drill safely.
Oceana has campaigned against offshore drilling in Belize for more than two years. In 2011, after collecting the 20,000+ signatures required to trigger a national referendum that would allow the public to vote on whether or not to allow offshore oil drilling in Belize’s reef, the Government disqualified over 8,000 of these signatures effectively on the basis of poor penmanship - stopping the possibility of a vote. Oceana answered by quickly organizing the nation’s first ever “People’s Referendum” on February 29, 2012 in which 29,235 people (Belize’s entire population is approximately 350,000) came from all over the country to cast their votes.
In this historic vote, 96 percent of voters voted against offshore exploration and drilling.
I have some terrific news to report: Shell announced yesterday that it will suspend attempts to drill for oil in the U.S. Arctic Ocean.
This announcement comes as a huge relief after Shell’s dangerous string of mishaps in the Arctic in the past year. In late December, the company’s drill rig, the Kulluk, broke away from its tow vessel in rough seas, and ran aground on New Year’s Eve off of Kodiak Island in an area that is home to endangered Steller sea lions, threatened southwest sea otters, and salmon.
Fortunately, the Coast Guard was able to rescue the crew of the Kulluk, and salvage crews were able to pull the vessel off the rocks without significant ecological harm. But the Kulluk incident capped off a year of missteps, and made it clear that Shell is not prepared to drill in the Arctic.
As Oceana’s Mike LeVine points out, “Shell currently faces two disabled vessels, two pending Coast Guard investigations, two notices of violation of the Clean Air Act, and an ongoing ‘assessment’ by the Department of the Interior. Fundamentally, both the company and the government agencies charged with making decisions about our ocean resources are faced with a crisis of confidence. The decisions to allow Shell to operate in the Arctic Ocean clearly were premature.”
This week, the civil trial began in New Orleans against BP and its partners in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. During the opening statements, an attorney for the Justice Department said, "The evidence will show that BP put profits above people, profits before safety and profits before the environment.”
The attorney’s statement could easily describe Shell’s behavior in 2012, except that the company was forced, by its own failures, to stop before real disaster struck. We are extremely lucky to have avoided catastrophe considering the unforgiving conditions in Alaskan waters and the impossibility of cleaning up a spill.
Kudos to Oceana’s team and our allies in Alaska for their persistent campaign work to achieve this victory.
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana
Yesterday, members of both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate sent letters to President Obama urging him to stop proposed seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic Ocean.
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is currently deciding if seismic airgun testing should be allowed to search for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of seven states from Delaware to Florida.
This type of seismic testing involves the use of airguns, which are towed behind ships and shoot loud blasts of compressed air at 250 decibels through the water and miles into the seabed to search for deep oil and gas deposits. These airguns make intense pulses of sound, almost as loud as explosives, every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for days to weeks on end. The blasts are so loud and constant that they can injure or disturb vital behaviors in fish, dolphins, whales and sea turtles.
Marine life impacts can include temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, and even beach strandings and death. If approved, seismic airguns will threaten endangered species, fisheries and coastal economies throughout the Atlantic.
These disruptive airguns are unnecessary and dangerous and here are the top 10 reasons why:
1. Seismic airgun testing is the first step towards deepwater drilling, the same practice that brought us the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in 2010.
2. Seismic airgun testing will injure about 138,500 whales and dolphins, nine of which are North Atlantic right whales, one of the most endangered species on the planet, based on DOI’s own study, which may underestimate the impacts.
3. In Peru in early 2012, 900 dolphins and porpoises washed up on shore dead with physical signs of damage to their ear bones following seismic airgun testing. In 2008 a similar mass die off occurred for dozens of melon-headed whales in Madagascar after testing.
4. Because it displaces fish and can harm fisheries, seismic airgun testing threatens over 200,000 jobs in commercial and recreational fishing.
5. There are less harmful technologies than airguns on the horizon but they are not being considered by DOI.
6. Seismic testing or drilling in the Atlantic would not reduce U.S. gas prices by even a penny.
7. Oil and gas companies already own oil and gas leases on millions of acres of federal lands and waters, many of them are inactive and have not been developed.
8. The burning of oil and gas contributes to global climate change and ocean acidification, so new drilling in the Atlantic is not the solution to our energy challenges.
9. There is no need to conduct seismic airgun testing now, since the administration does not plan to hold oil and gas lease sales in the area until at least 2017.
10. Atlantic offshore wind could supply more jobs and energy than oil and gas in the region.
Learn more about the harmful impacts of seismic airguns and tell the President to protect whales and dolphins in the Atlantic, not drive them away.
After just one day of drilling in the Arctic, ice floes forced Shell to halt its operations in the Chukchi Sea. The problems point to the inherent danger in drilling for oil in such an unforgiving landscape. While oil spills occur nearly every day in the Gulf of Mexico, high winds, waves, fog and unpredictable ice floes promise to make drilling in the Arctic even more fraught with hazard.
Following last week’s approval by the Department of the Interior, Shell began drilling its first exploration well off the coast of Northern Alaska on Sunday, but abruptly stopped on Monday as the ice closed in.
In August, Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless condemned Shell’s push into the far North.
“There is no price tag on the Arctic,” he said. “No matter how much money the company spends or how many vessels it mobilizes, Shell should not be allowed put the Arctic Ocean at risk.”
Meanwhile, Shell has been wrangling with the Coast Guard to approve an oil-spill containment barge for the site, the Arctic Challenger, a long-neglected hulk that had become Caspian Tern habitat moored off the West coast for decades.
With ice cover retreating to historic lows, Shell has been at the forefront in pushing forward with plans to exploit the Arctic. But, even in light of the BP disaster, little progress has been made in the way of offshore drilling safety, as outlined in an Oceana report issued earlier this year.
And, as that report also noted, frigid temperatures, months of continuous darkness and a lack of infrastructure in northern Alaska would make any response to an Arctic oil spill especially difficult.
This summer Shell also received a green light from the government to harass marine mammals, such as bowhead whales and walrus, as it pushed forward with the disruptive activity that inevitably accompanies oil exploration, such as noise, air and water pollution from ice-breaking and drill ships.