One plan involves building up almost 70 miles of barrier islands by dredging sand and mud, including some from the bottom of the Mississippi River, and depositing it onto the outer shores of the islands, a process that would normally require years of environmental assessment.
Sediments from the river are likely to be contaminated with a host of other chemicals, like mercury, which could add insult to injury in the already badly contaminated Gulf waters.
Some of these islands are home to bird and wildlife sanctuaries, including the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. The plan may not work because the barrier islands have shrunk significantly, in part as a result of human engineering that has altered the flow of Mississippi for a variety of reasons -- including in efforts to facilitate oil and gas production.
Oil has begun washing ashore in Louisiana’s Chandeleur and Breton Island chain, part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge is a nesting site for the brown pelican, which was removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List last year. Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement agents also discovered two dead gannets covered in oil on Wednesday. And today, the Fish and Wildlife Service closed the Refuge to the public.
After the Deepwater Drilling Disaster began 17 days ago, we’ve all tried to figure out why we should continue to expand drilling offshore.
For those who think it’s because it will help us achieve energy independence, think again. There is no way that we can drill our way to energy independence – and the government knows it.
Right now, we get about 65% of our oil from other countries, the biggest sources being Canada and Mexico. And government studies show that all the oil in US waters wouldn’t change that figure much. It would only lower it to about 60% at best. A government study expected to come out soon shows that even that much is unlikely.
The Deepwater Drilling Disaster continues without resolution, as the first reports of sea turtles washing up on shore are starting to trickle in, and local fishermen are reluctantly accepting jobs working as cleanup crew for the company that has ruined their livelihoods.
As the oil continues to gush from Deepwater’s broken pipe at rates that cannot be accurately determined, we are looking at an oil disaster that will surpass Exxon Valdez in a matter of weeks, if it hasn’t already.
But this tragedy has galvanized opposition to offshore drilling.
Two notable developments have taken place this week already. On Tuesday, I was honored to speak to press in the shadow of the Capitol alongside Senators Bill Nelson, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, as well as the executive directors of the Sierra Club and Environment America.
"I will make it short and to the point," said Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida). "The president's proposal for offshore drilling is dead on arrival.” Senator Nelson was joined by New Jersey Democratic Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez.
The Senators also vowed to keep new oil drilling provisions out of any climate change legislation that comes out of the Senate, and Senator Menendez has introduced new legislation to raise the limit on the amount of money oil companies could be forced to pay for economic damages from catastrophic oil spills.
While the Deepwater Horizon rig was exploding, burning, sinking, and spewing, the federal government’s Minerals Management Service was, coincidentally, holding a series of meetings on the impact of oil exploration along the southeast Atlantic coast. They got much more than they bargained for.
In my ongoing mission to identify and plug in local activists for Oceana’s “Stop the Drill” campaign, I attended the meetings in Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, and Wilmington, meeting fabulous people who were already geared up for a big fight on drilling even before the news of the Deepwater Disaster had spread.
The first meeting I attended was held on April 21, just one day after the explosion. Attendance was fairly low, at around 30 people, but I immediately noticed a trend that would grow ever more pronounced as the meetings went by: attendees who were not paid to attend were overwhelmingly there to voice their opposition to drilling off the East Coast.
The area’s vital fisheries and wildlife are now in grave danger from what appears to be one of the nation’s worst ecological disasters in decades.
Meanwhile, a senior adviser to President Obama said yesterday that there will be no new offshore drilling until an investigation was conducted into the spill -- a good start, but it’s not enough. Obama’s plans to expand offshore drilling in new areas wouldn’t take place for years anyway. His administration should halt those plans now and reinstate the moratoria that protected our coastlines for more than twenty-five years.
There’s a comment period open now, and it closes next Monday, May 3. Tell Secretary Salazar today that enough is enough. We need clean energy, like the offshore wind project he approved earlier this week -- not expanded offshore drilling, and its associated catastrophic risks.
Matt Niemerski is an Ocean Advocate at Oceana.
It just keeps getting worse.
A NOAA scientist has concluded that oil is leaking into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 5,000 barrels a day, five times the initial 1,000 per-day estimate. And a third leak was discovered yesterday afternoon.
If the estimates are correct, the spill, which is nearly the size of Jamaica, could match or exceed the 11 million gallons spilt from the Exxon Valdez within two months -- becoming the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
That, essentially, is what Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar acknowledged with his approval of the Cape Wind project, the nation's first offshore wind farm, which has been in the works for nearly a decade.
Oceana's chief scientist and senior vice president Mike Hirshfield had this to say about the big decision:
"We hope that today’s decision on Cape Wind will help set in motion a series of actions leading to additional American offshore wind projects. It sends a clear signal to turbine manufacturers and supporting companies that the U.S. means business on clean energy and climate change.”
We have a long way to go on offshore wind in the U.S., but this is a crucial first step, especially in light of this month’s oil spill in the Gulf, which is oozing ever closer to landfall. After crews were unable to stop the oil spill with underwater robots, they are trying a new tack: setting it on fire.