The Beacon

Blog Tags: Offshore Drilling

CEO Note: 30,000 Strong Against Drilling in Belize

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.


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Belize Government Rejects 8,000 Anti-drilling Signatures

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!


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CEO Note: The Real Economics of Offshore Drilling

oil rig in the gulf of mexico

© Oceana/Eduardo Sorensen

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.


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Another Report Declares Deepwater Drilling Unsafe

oil rigs

Oil rigs on the horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. © Oceana/Carlos Suarez

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.


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Oceana Unveils New Oil Spill Map

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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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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Offshore Drilling Plan Offers Mixed Tidings

oil rig in gulf of mexico

An oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. © Oceana/Eduardo Sorensen

This afternoon, the Department of the Interior released its plan for oil drilling for the next five years, and it’s a mixed bag.

Bad news first: Today’s decision opens the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico to drilling, despite the facts that the Gulf is still experiencing the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill and that safety regulations have improved little since this disaster.

The decision also leaves the Arctic open to drilling. Fortunately, there’s a small bright spot here: The administration has announced that lease sales in the Arctic will be continued only after more research and monitoring has been conducted. Today’s decision also promises to respect special areas within the Arctic and acknowledges the recent report that found gaps in Arctic ecosystem science.

The best news, however, is that the administration will not permit offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific, or the parts of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico currently under a drilling moratorium.

“The administration’s new five-year plan is good news for Atlantic coastal states, especially Virginia and Florida.  However, the Arctic and the Gulf are still in harm’s way,” said Jackie Savitz, Oceana senior campaign director.

“As we watch the BP oil continue to foul the Gulf of Mexico, it’s crystal clear that fundamental, industry-wide safety and response failures must be addressed before moving forward with such an aggressive program in the Gulf.  The economy and health of the Gulf may not survive the next disaster,” Savitz added.


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It’s Time to End Handouts to Big Oil

andy sharpless

Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless speaks to a crowd at the Capitol. © Oceana/Heather Ryan

Yesterday Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless joined members of Congress and other clean energy advocates in urging an end to oil industry tax breaks and subsidies

The five biggest oil companies – including Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil -- took in 70 percent more profit this quarter than they did in the same quarter in 2010, and their earnings for 2011 are projected to go up by 74 percent to $132 billion. And yet U.S. policymakers have consistently voted to continue tax breaks and subsidies for these corporations.

In other words, we are essentially paying these companies to take big risks in our oceans. What’s wrong with this picture?

As Sharpless noted, ending these tax breaks will protect vital economic programs for hard working Americans and veterans, while reducing the federal deficit.  “Ending giveaways to oil companies is a no-brainer,” Sharpless said. “Oil companies should pay their fair share of taxes like the rest of us – they doggone sure have the money.”

 

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), one of the speakers at yesterday’s press conference, has been a longtime leader in the fight to close tax loopholes for Big Oil. Just last month, Sen. Menendez led a letter with 13 Senate colleagues to the The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, often called "the Supercommittee," urging consideration of his “Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act.”  The bill calls for the elimination of more than $21 billion in oil subsidies. The bill received a majority vote in the Senate but did not pass due to a Republican filibuster. 

“Isn’t it time we asked Big Oil – the folks who made $100 billion in profits so far this year – to pay their fair share?” Menendez said. 

We couldn’t agree more.

The Obama Administration has proposed cutting harmful oil and gas subsidies by $4 billion per year.  The President’s proposal would net over $40 billion over 10 years.

We’ll continue the fight to end these harmful subsidies and promote investment in clean energy. Thanks as always for your support and stay tuned! (In the meantime, you can check out more photos from yesterday's presser.)


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It's Sweater Weather - for Penguins

penguins in sweaters

(Photo credit: Toby Zerna/Newspix/Rex USA)

Ah, sweater weather. To a New Englander, the cool, crisp fall mornings of October bring to mind the crunching of leaves underfoot, the smell of hot coffee, and the delightful promise of eating only pumpkin flavored things for the next few weeks.

But to penguins in New Zealand, sweater weather means something a little different.

After 350 tons of oil leaked from a stranded cargo ship off the coast of New Zealand, cleanup efforts were directed at the native blue penguins that were soaked in oil. Oil contamination degrades the quality of the penguins’ feathers that help them to stay warm. In response to these concerns, a knitting shop in New Zealand, Skeinz, designed a pattern for knitters to create tiny penguin sized sweaters.

The result is adorable. The sweaters range in style and design—some with cable knits and others with stripes or collars. And the end result is a lot of healthy, clean penguins to be released once their habitat is cleaned up.

Penguin sweaters are great, though it would be better if we didn't need them at all. That’s why Oceana works to stop offshore oil drilling and protect our coasts from oil contamination


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New Zealand Oil Spill Brings Reminders of Gulf Spill

little blue penguin

A little blue penguin covered in oil. © Jeremy Gray/Flickr

Matthew Huelsenbeck is a marine scientist at Oceana.

A cargo ship has wrecked on a reef off the coast of New Zealand and the oil spill and wreckage is being called the worst maritime environmental disaster in the country’s history.

Reminders of last year’s Gulf oil spill are playing out as oil is lapping up on some of New Zealand’s most popular beaches, and hazmat suit workers are attempting to clean it up. Graphic images are emerging of oil soaked penguins and birds washing up dead.

Videos show the cargo ship tilted at a severe angle and it is feared to be splitting in half. Several of the cargo containers hold hazardous materials that could ignite in flames when in contact with water. New Zealand’s emergency response team is having difficulties containing the spill and accessing the ship due to high seas and strong winds. 

During a college study abroad at the University of Auckland, I experienced the unspoiled beaches of New Zealand, and the little blue penguins that are now washing ashore dead. New Zealand’s respect for the coastlines and marine life has given them great protection and status in their country, so this is indeed a sad day for their citizens and all of us who appreciate the oceans. I hope that the political response in New Zealand to this disaster is better than what has happened so far in the United States, which is a whole lot of talk and no action.

Here in the U.S., Shell is pushing to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean and making outrageous claims that they could clean up after an oil spill under even more extreme weather, seasonal darkness, sea ice, and no harbors. Previous spill cleanup drills in the Arctic have failed miserably. 

America still has a chance! Protect walruses and seals by helping us keep similar oil spills out of the Arctic Ocean.


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