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Blog Tags: Offshore Drilling

Peru Dolphin Deaths Show What Seismic Testing Might Do

© Reuters

What will happen to marine life if the government allows seismic testing, using loud airgun blasts, to search for oil and gas deep beneath the seabed along the U.S. Atlantic coast in the next few years?

The answer may be foreshadowed by the scene in Peru, where earlier this year, hundreds of dolphin carcasses washed ashore along an 85-mile stretch of beach. While the science is not definitive, one expert, Dr. Yaipan-Llanos who has been investigating the cause of the dead dolphins and has conducted 30 necropsies, claims to have seen physiological impacts that resemble what would be expected from seismic testing for oil and gas.

Dr. Yaipan-Llanos found bubbles in the organs and tissues of the dolphin carcasses. These harmful bubbles may have been caused by the disruptive impacts of an intense sound source dislodging bubbles inside the animals or the rapid ascent of the animals toward the surface after being scared.

Alternatively, some have suggested that they could be caused by the natural breakdown of the animal’s body on the beach after death. However, the freshness of some of the carcasses sampled may rule out that theory. Another alarming finding is that the middle ears of 30 of the dolphins had fractures, an injury which could be caused by airgun blasts.  

Peruvian government officials have denied that the deaths are due to seismic testing for oil and gas or any other human-related causes, but their methodologies are being questioned by Peruvian scientists. Only two autopsies were conducted by government officials, and those dolphin carcasses were collected late in the process, making the cause of death difficult to identify.

What we do know is that seismic equipment was tested between 50 and 80 miles offshore of Peru from January 31st through February 7th and seismic surveys were conducted offshore between February 7th and April 8th.  Dr. Yaipan-Llanos first noticed the carcasses on February 7th and he collected his first samples on February 12th. Carcasses then continued to appear through mid-April. The Peruvian government report ruled out viruses, bacterial infections, pesticides or heavy metals and says that it did not find signs of trauma that would indicate seismic tests or human-related causes. But the report did not identify any cause or causes of the deaths, which remain a mystery.

This incident in Peru is unresolved, and may remain that way, but this unfortunate turn of events gives us a picture of what a mass mortality event in the U.S. could look like if seismic surveying moves forward on the Atlantic coast. Given the impacts on dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizion oil spill, it would be a shame to further threaten even more dolphins with unnecessary air gun use.

Can you imagine the headline “Hundreds of Dolphin Deaths in Atlantic May be Linked to Airgun Blasts from Seismic Testing for Oil and Gas”?

The U.S. government actually predicts that over the next eight years, 138,000 marine mammal injuries would occur from seismic testing using airguns on the Atlantic coast. Vital activities in marine mammals like feeding, calving, and breeding would be disrupted 13.5 million times. Airguns would also threaten valuable East coast fisheries, marine tourism and endangered species like the North Atlantic right whale and loggerhead sea turtle.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is currently looking into the Peruvian mass mortality of dolphins, and at the same time they are also reviewing a decision about whether to allow seismic testing for oil and gas off the Atlantic coast from Florida to Delaware. The comment period for this decision ends soon, but you can still tell BOEM to protect whales and dolphins from destructive airgun blasts: submit your comments before Monday July 2!


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It’s a Fact: Domestic Drilling Doesn’t Affect Gas Prices

Oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. © Oceana/Soledad Esnaola

Two newly released reports shed some much-needed light onto a crucial question in Washington: Does domestic oil drilling affect gasoline prices?

That question lies at the heart of the debate over what we should do about high and volatile gasoline prices. Advocates for oil drilling call for broader and quicker access to our nation’s resources in order to provide relief at the pump – calls that the House has happily obliged by passing bills that would open up new areas to offshore drilling and undercut government oversight. Environmental groups and other opponents of domestic drilling, on the other hand, argue that this is the wrong approach, and that we should instead be investing in fuel efficient vehicles and alternate modes of transportation.

The two new reports provide much-needed objective and nonpartisan analyses of this crucial question, and come to the same, clear conclusion: providing relief at the pump to U.S. consumers can only be achieved through reducing our oil consumption, NOT through more domestic drilling.

The reports were issued by the Energy Security Leadership Council (ESLC), a nonpartisan project of Securing America’s Future Energy that’s composed of industry CEOs and retired four-star generals and admirals, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which provides nonpartisan economic analysis to Congress.  They join a growing list of impartial publications that refute the notion that the United States can drill its way to energy independence and free ourselves from the myriad problems associated with our oil consumption and offshore drilling.


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Tell Obama: Turn Shell's Ships Around

Every day brings Shell a little closer to drilling in Arctic waters, home to seals, whales, and polar bears.

With that drilling comes the risk of an oil spill, which could be devastating to the ocean ecosystem and those dependent on it. But it’s not too late—there is still a chance for President Obama to turn Shell’s boats around and insist on good science and demonstrated response technology.

Drilling in the Arctic isn’t like drilling anywhere else. Stormy seas, freezing temperatures, and a lack of infrastructure create a dangerous and possibly deadly trifecta. If an accident occurs, it would be impossible to clean up the spilled oil and keep the water safe for the whales and seals who live there.

Oceana and its partners gathered more than one million signatures seeking good decisions about our Arctic Ocean resources. These signatures are being delivered to the White House today asking President Obama to turn Shell’s ships around and keep the Arctic safe.

But there is still more to do. Today, we’re asking you to call the White House and ask President Obama to stop Shell until we have the science and response capacity needed to make good decisions. We’ve made it easy for you—you can just dial 202-456-1111, or check out our handy form with talking points here. And then let us know how it goes!


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Government Fails on Offshore Drilling Report Card

Friday will mark two years since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, causing the worst accidental oil spill in history. One would hope that an accident like this would lead to monumental changes in safety regulations, but sadly that is not the case.

Today, we released a report card that grades the failures of the United States government and the oil and gas industry after the oil spill.

“Politics continues to triumph over common sense. It’s outrageous that so little progress has been made to make offshore drilling safer,” said Jacqueline Savitz, our senior campaign director. “It appears that the government has done little more than require actions that were already being done voluntarily, even on the ill-fated rig – it’s as if they are letting the industry regulate itself.”

We gave the grades based on how well the government and industry followed recommendations they were given after the spill. They received “F” grades in most of the categories, but in three instances the government did make small but ultimately unsatisfactory efforts, earning “D” grades.

Overall, “both industry and government get ‘F’s’,” Savitz said. “Without stronger regulations, and better inspection and enforcement, oil companies will continue to put profits over safety and there will be more problems. It’s not a matter of whether there will be another oil spill, but when.”

For more information about Oceana’s campaign to stop new offshore drilling, please visit www.stopthedrill.org.


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Outrage Against Drilling in Canary Islands

A popular tourist beach in the Canary Islands that would be affected by drilling. © Lauren Linzer

Editor's note: This is a guest contribution by Oceana supporter Lauren Linzer, who lives on the Spanish island of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, which are just off the west coast of Africa. 

Along with many other nations around the world, Spain has been desperately searching for solutions to relieve the increasing financial woes the country is facing. 

With a significant portion of its oil supply being imported and oil prices skyrocketing, attention to cutting down on this lofty expense has turned toward a tempting opportunity to drill for oil offshore in their own territory. 

The large Spanish petrol firm, REPSOL, has declared an interest in surveying underwater land dangerously close to the Spanish Canary Islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. This would, in theory, cut down significantly on spending for the struggling country, providing a desperately needed financial boost.

But are the grave ecological repercussions worth the investment?  There is much debate around the world about this controversial subject; but on the island of Lanzarote, it is clear that this will not be a welcome move.

Last week, protesters from around the island gathered in the capital city of Arrecife to demonstrate their opposition to the exploration for underwater oil.  With their faces painted black and picket signs in hand, an estimated 22,000 people (almost one fifth of the island’s population) walked from one side of the city to the other, chanting passionately and marching to the beat of drums that lead the pack.  Late into the night, locals of all ages and occupations joined together to express their dire concerns. 

Besides the massive eyesore that the site of the drilling will introduce off the east coast, the ripple effects to islanders will have a devastating impact.  The most obvious industry that will take a serious hit will be tourism, which the island depends on heavily.  Most of the large touristic destinations are on the eastern shore due to the year-round excellent weather and plethora of picturesque beaches.  But with the introduction of REPSOL’s towers a mere 23 kilometers (14 miles) from the island’s most populated beaches, the natural purity and ambient tranquility that draws so many European travelers will be a thing of the past. 


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Arctic Drilling Could Start as Early as July

The Beaufort Sea. [Image credit: NOAA via Wikimedia Commons.]

In the past 60 days Shell Oil, the global oil and gas company headquartered in the Netherlands, has received two permits from the U.S. government approving their Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea spill response plans. This is shocking because neither of the plans use technology that has ever been successfully tested in America’s Arctic waters.

Drilling could begin as soon as July 1 -- a blatant sign that the Administration is going after a quick political fix that places the public trust behind Big Oil’s bottom line. A year ago people were talking about the possibility of drilling one well in the Arctic,  but today’s approval will make it possible for Shell to drill up to ten wells, four in the Beaufort Sea and six in the Chukchi.

Oceana encourages the Administration to follow a path of attaining and relying on good science, being prepared for a worst case accident, and having a full and fair public dialogue. 

Currently in the North Sea there is a leaking rig that could spark a massive explosion. This latest North Sea disaster is a crystal ball showing us the future in the Arctic. There has never been exploration, development, or transport of oil in the offshore U.S. without a major accident eventually occurring as evidenced by the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the Santa Barbara pipe rupture, and the Exxon Valdez tanker wreck.

The last public U.S. Arctic in-the-water spill response tests were a failure so why is the U.S. government and Shell assuming their untested spill plans will work?  Just look at the most recent failed test and you can see they aren’t prepared.

Wherever oil and gas exploration goes, pollution follows. It is naive to think that a spill won’t happen in the Arctic. And we have the rare opportunity to do thoughtful management and planning in the Arctic. 

There is simply not enough science information or infrastructure in the Arctic to make any kind of claim that offshore drilling could be done without harming this pristine place.

You can help: Tell President Obama to make sure Shell’s final permits are not granted – let’s keep offshore drilling out of the Arctic.


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Deep-sea Coral Sickness Linked to Gulf Oil Spill

Deep-sea corals. © NOAA

Even more sad news from the Gulf of Mexico, but this time it runs a mile deep. A new study confirms that the oil that likely caused deepwater coral sickness indeed came from the largest accidental oil spill in history, the Deepwater Horizon.

Back in June 2010, deep-sea coral communities showed signs of severe stress and tissue damage after being covered with heavy mucous and brown flocculent material which was believed to be caused by the spill. This type of ill-health in deep sea corals had never before been documented during deep sea research.

The lead author, Helen White from Haverford College, stated, “We would not expect deep-water corals to be impacted from a typical oil spill, but the sheer magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its release at depth makes it very different than a tanker running aground and spilling its contents.” 

Deepwater corals can live hundreds of years, and they serve as hot beds for marine biodiversity. The deepwater coral communities are habitat for crabs, shrimp, brittlestars and commercially important fish species like red snapper and grouper. These corals can take a long time to recover from damage and in comparison this would be similar to clear cutting patches of ancient redwood forests in California. 

These results are startling in that they show for the first time how harmful deepwater oil drilling is to distant ecosystems even though they are separated from humans by more than 4,000 feet of water. These ancient deepwater corals were likely  already living long before the first oil rigs entered the Gulf of Mexico. If we protect them from more drilling and more spilling they could thrive in a world that moves away from oil to smarter and safer sources of energy, like offshore wind.

Oceana is doing its part by filing a legal challenge against new lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico. We do not believe that the government has adequately studied the potential impacts of new drilling or the true extent of the biological impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These include the deepwater corals and so many other species that live in the Gulf.

It is also clear that safety measures have not improved to an adequate level. We need your support to continue our efforts to stop offshore drilling and protect important deep sea habitats, dolphins and the thousands of species that are still struggling from oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. Go to stopthedrill.org to get involved.


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Sick Dolphins in the Gulf

dolphin

© Oceana/Jesus Renedo

Sad news from the Gulf of Mexico: At least 32 dolphins in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, one of the hardest hit spots by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have been given physicals and are reported as severely ill according to NOAA officials.

The dolphins are reporting a range of symptoms from being underweight, anemic, low blood sugar and liver and lung disease. One of the studied dolphins has already been found dead.

There has been a large surge in dolphin deaths in the Northern Gulf of Mexico since the oil spill, especially newborn and young dolphins. In 2011 there were 159 strandings just in Louisiana, almost 8 times the historical average in previous years.

The numbers of dolphin carcasses found is likely only a fraction of the total amount of dolphins that were killed by the oil, and the true number is likely 50 times the total of 600 strandings since the spill, so more than 30,000 dolphin mortalities may have been caused by the spill already.

The spike in young dolphin deaths since the spill is extremely concerning, and showed biologists that the health of dolphin populations in the Northern Gulf had been compromised and many miscarriages may have occurred following contact with oil pollution. 


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Bill O'Reilly Preaches Conservation to Lower Gas Prices

With gas prices on the rise, the blame game is in full swing. Some in the media and in the government are saying increased drilling will lower gas prices. It turns out this isn’t the first time we have heard this argument, and liberals and conservatives alike agree that it is just not true.

But don’t take my word for it, listen to Fox News! 

They are right! No amount of drilling here in the United States can lower the price of a gallon of gas. We just aren’t a big enough supplier, though we’re number one when it comes to demand.

Try as we may, we will never control supply – we can, however, decrease demand. Improving efficiency, promoting conservation, and transitioning to renewable sources of energy like offshore wind are the only ways to achieve a secure and affordable energy future. Using less is the only way to lower the price. Just ask Bill O.

In 2008, he gave his viewers sound advice: “If Americans want lower gas prices, cut back. Sell those SUV’s. Ride a bike when you can. If every one of us bought 10% less, prices would fall fast.”


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The Real Reason for High Gas Prices, Redux

Oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. © Oceana/Soledad Esnaola

Editor's note: This post by Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless was originally posted last May on Politico.com. We think it couldn't be more relevant right now, especially considering that many media outlets are now making similar arguments to the one we've been making since last year - that gas prices aren't tied to offshore drilling.

Why do we take terrible risks to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere along our coasts?

Most people would say we drill to protect ourselves from big fluctuations in gasoline prices that are caused by major upheavals in the Middle East.

Their argument is that the more oil we can produce domestically, the lower the price we’ll pay at the pump. It’s not that they like the sight of oil wells off our beaches. The main reason they argue for more offshore oil drilling is they think it will save money — especially since gas prices approached $4 a gallon recently. (See: A chart of U.S. gas prices here.)

This idea is not only intuitively appealing. It is repeatedly and unambiguously promoted by important government officials from both the Democratic and the Republican parties. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) defended legislation that would expand offshore oil drilling, saying “this bill would do more to lower gas prices at the pump than any other plan.” Meanwhile, Sarah Palin criticized President Barack Obama, saying, “His war on domestic oil and gas exploration and production has caused us pain at the pump.”

Former President George W. Bush, who had private-sector oil industry experience, said it could “take pressure off gasoline prices over time by expanding the amount of American-made oil and gasoline.” And Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, insists, “Gas prices are closing in on $4 per gallon … because of the de facto moratorium on drilling permits.”

Pundits, like Steve Doocy of Fox, endorse the argument, saying that the solution to rising gas prices is to “just poke a hole in the ground.”

Yet during the past two years, the amount of oil pumped in the U.S. has been going up, not down — as one might infer from all these comments. So this strongly stated argument to increase domestic oil drilling is wrong.

Examine the facts. The Energy Information Administration data show the price at the pump closely mirrors the international price of oil, not the percentage of oil coming from imports. (A chart comparing the U.S. gasoline prices and the percent of oil we import can be found here.)
 
Now, consider the price of unleaded gasoline at the pump compared with the international price of crude oil (See: A chart comparing U.S. gasoline prices and international crude oil prices here.)

Which do you think does a better job of explaining the changes in the price of gasoline at the pump? Your common-sense reading of the charts is correct. The price of gasoline at the pump is not statistically correlated with the share of U.S. consumption of imported oil, but it is highly correlated with the international price of imported crude.

This seemingly counterintuitive result is consistent with how the world’s oil markets actually operate. Ask yourself this question: When BP or any other big oil company finds oil in the Gulf of Mexico, does it sell it to us at a discount because we were kind enough to let them drill in America?

No, it doesn’t. It sells it all over the world at the price set in the international oil market. As an international commodity, oil is priced on an international basis — according to global supply and demand. Global demand is the reason the price is going up now. The world’s economies are recovering from the slump of the past few years and the developing economies, like China, are increasing their demand.

Meanwhile, offshore drilling is simply too risky for our beaches and fisheries. Want proof? Oil company shareholders insist on having a law limiting their liability in the event of a disaster.

I don’t think these risks are worth it. You might disagree. But if you do, remember: Anyone who tells you we should do offshore oil drilling to lower our price at the pump doesn’t care about the facts.


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