Blog Tags: Offshore Drilling
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.
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.
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.”
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.)
You’ve probably heard that Shell is planning to drill in Arctic waters. But now the plot thickens: In a bizarre move, Shell has decided to preemptively sue a group of environmental groups, including Oceana, to attempt to silence our voices and remove our right to challenge their spill response plan.
Naturally environmentalists have been fighting against Shell’s plan — the Arctic is a fragile environment, and an oil spill there would be a tragedy for Arctic communities, seals, polar bears, and more. Even the US Coast Guard has said they don’t have the resources to deal with an Arctic spill.
Oceana has been campaigning to prevent unsafe drilling in the Arctic, along with many other environmental groups. Greenpeace made the news recently for protesting aboard an Arctic bound oil-drilling ship with actress Lucy Lawless.
The truth is, there is no known technology to clean up spilled oil in icy Arctic ocean conditions. Shell does not have some magic solution. Clean-up crews at the recent Gulf of Mexico spill were only able to recover about 10% of the spilled oil, and that was in a warm environment with relatively calm seas.
In the icy Arctic 1,000 miles from the nearest Coast Guard station, clean-up efforts would be extremely difficult if not impossible. By saying otherwise, Shell is misleading the public and the government.
We’ll keep you posted as this curious lawsuit unfolds...
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.
I have a dramatic update for you on our campaign to stop offshore drilling in Belize.
As I reported to you several weeks ago, the government shockingly rejected 8,000 of the 20,000 signatures we collected against offshore drilling, citing poor penmanship as a primary reason.
The 20,000 signatures we collected should have been more than plenty to trigger a national referendum on offshore drilling, but since the government refused to comply, we held our own referendum last week – a people’s referendum.
And the results were astounding.
Nearly 30,000 registered Belizeans – that’s almost 20% of the country’s voting population – cast a ballot on the issue of offshore drilling. The results? 96% to 4% voted against offshore drilling. We think this is irrefutable evidence that the Belizean government needs to act responsibly, and either end plans to allow drilling in its reef, or allow a public referendum to determine the national policy.
Oceana is the leading voice in Belize against offshore drilling. Belize is home to the magnificent Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which we simply cannot sacrifice for oil.
I’ll keep you posted as this important story continues to unfold.
Last year, our colleagues in Belize traversed the small Caribbean nation to gather more than 20,000 signatures on a petition against offshore oil drilling off Belize’s coast and beautiful protected areas. They discovered that almost everyone they spoke to was against allowing oil rigs to invade Belize’s crystal blue waters.
According to Belizean law, those signatures should be sufficient to trigger a national referendum on the issue. But this week, the government threw a wrench in the works by rejecting more than 8,000 of the signatures. According to Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai, the signatures were turned down primarily because of poor penmanship.
Oceana’s Vice President for Belize, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, spoke to a local radio station about the news:
“At the moment what I feel is that Belizeans should just come out to the streets and protest. Belizeans need to get more agitated. They need to realize that their voices are being shut down…But not only that, we need to organize and make a mass movement. To set the agenda as it pertains to our resources, especially as it relates to our marine resources.”
Oceana is not backing down in the fight to stop offshore drilling from ruining Belize’s incredible marine heritage. Stay tuned!
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.
If you watched this week’s State of the Union address, you may have heard President Obama announce that he was opening 75 percent of our “potential offshore oil and gas resources.”
The good news is that this isn’t news; it’s simply a reiteration of the administration’s current five-year drilling plan that fully protects the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as much of the U.S. Arctic. The bad news, however, is that plan expands offshore drilling to include much more of the Gulf of Mexico than ever before – and worse yet, some of the Arctic. It’s as if the massive 2010 spill never happened.
In other good news, the President expressed his wish to reduce subsidies for oil companies. The oil companies receive about $10 billion a year in tax breaks, and the Obama administration has proposed cutting $4 billion.
I applaud the President’s commitment to reducing subsidies for the big oil companies, although I wish he would go further and eliminate them completely.
Unfortunately, the State of the Union address, as well as this week’s Republican primary debate in Florida, reiterated that our political leaders still fail to grasp a basic economic fact: that increasing our domestic supply of oil will not lower our prices at the gas pump.
Oil is a global commodity, and prices are set on a world market. Multinational companies who drill for oil – like Shell, B.P. and Exxon – will sell to the highest bidder. That may be the U.S. It may just as well be India or China.
As we learned during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, there’s more at stake. National Journal writer Beth Reinhard asked the right question at Monday’s Republican debate when she noted drilling in Florida will create at most 5,000 jobs, while an oil spill threatens the 1 million jobs that depend upon tourism, which contributes $40 billion each year to Florida’s economy.
That’s a high price to pay to help oil companies continue to make record profits. And yet Rick Santorum, on the receiving end of her question, reiterated his support for more domestic drilling.
Unfortunately, oil companies are powerful players in the election season. They dole out enormous contributions to the candidates, which may explain why we see misinformation on both sides of the political aisle.
Here at Oceana, we’ll stick to the facts. More offshore drilling won’t lower your price at the pump, and we’ll continue to fight to protect our beaches and seafood from dirty and dangerous drilling.
Last week the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council released a report about offshore drilling safety, and I bet you can guess what it shows: Deepwater drilling isn’t safe.
The report echoes many conclusions from previous reports on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, including Oceana’s report, "False Sense of Safety," and presents a solid set of recommendations that the government can use to make offshore drilling safer.
A few of the report’s conclusions paint a particularly stark picture of the continued dangers of offshore drilling.
The report, titled "Macondo Well-Deepwater Horizon Blowout: Lessons for Improving Offshore Drilling Safety," concludes as others have that blowout preventers, or BOPs – the last line of defense against blowouts and spills – are not designed to function correctly in deepwater drilling and so cannot be relied on. In the words of the report:
“the BOP system at the Macondo well [had] a number of deficiencies... that are indicative of deficiencies in the design process... [that] also may be present for BOP systems deployed for other deepwater drilling operations” (pg. 54).
But design is not their only problem; the report says testing is woefully inadequate as well. To fix these problems, the report calls for the redesign and improved testing of BOPs. In the meantime, deepwater drilling should be suspended, since BOPs cannot be relied upon for protection against spills.
Have you ever wondered just how common oil spills are? Prepare to have your socks knocked off.
Oceana and SkyTruth have partnered to launch a new online oil spill tracking tool, which maps oil spill reports from the National Response Center. Considering there are a couple dozen reports from just the past week, you may find this new map disheartening – but that isn’t the worst of it. Many of the reports come from the oil industry itself, as well as the public and the government, so the map may actually underestimate the number and size of spills.
Clicking on any incident offers details about the spill. Although many reports are of unknown sheens in the water, the effects of incidents like these add up quickly as the oceans deal with this sort of pollution. By drawing attention to even minor spills, this map highlights the repetitive damage done to our environment by offshore drilling and other oil pollution.
Moreover, some of the incidents marked on this map may be still more serious. For example, a spill near a rig operated by Transocean off the coast of Brazil, reported on Thursday, is currently being attributed by Chevron to “oil seeps.” This spill may contain as much as 628,000 gallons of oil.
“This new Web tool will help people visualize the magnitude of the oil industry’s damage to our natural environment and our economy,” said Oceana senior campaign director Jacqueline Savitz.
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