Months after President George W. Bush lifted the Presidential moratorium on offshore oil and gas development and Congress let a similar Congressional moratorium lapse, on Thursday, the federal government moved to pursue oil and natural gas exploration off the coast of Virginia.
The Interior Department began a public comment period on drafting an environmental-impact statement on offshore drilling. The environmental review process is the first step to open 2.9 million acres of offshore habitat to a lease sale scheduled for 2011.
Expanded offshore oil drilling will do nothing in the short term to reduce energy costs and will do little to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. America accounts for 2 percent of global oil reserves and 25 percent of total consumption. The US Energy Information Agency (EIA) found that it would take at least 10 years to reach peak production and at that point, it would only amount to pennies in savings at the pump and would account for less than 1 percent of the US daily energy demand.
Drilling offshore is not clean and accidents do happen, and the impacts to our ocean and marine environments are long-lasting. Nineteen years have passed since the Exxon Valdez ran aground and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the pristine waters of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. At the time it was portrayed as a terrible accident. 1,300 miles of private shoreline was damaged some of which remains oiled today. The environmental consequences of oil spills and accidents are especially severe to the marine environment. Oil can harm seabirds and marine mammals through physical contact and toxic contamination.
Some of this drilling is even proposed in newly discovered deep water canyons that contain long-lived, slow growing deep sea corals. These corals offer shelter, breeding and nursery areas for juvenile fish and other marine life. When you add in the potential impacts to tourism and commercial fisheries—key parts of the coastal economy -- it is clear that the risk of drilling in Virginia is too high.
Offshore drilling is the wrong answer -- for our economy and for our oceans.