In the minutes after midnight on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez poured 10.8 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound. The spill turned those spruce-lined waters into a sticky death trap for countless animals, including a quarter of a million birds. In the period since, Presidents Bush and Clinton, with consistent support in Congress, stopped new oil drilling on the outer continental shelf of the lower forty eight states.
Now, at a time when expensive investments in carbon-based energy development make less sense than ever, the American oceans may again be opened to the oil companies. Under the pressure of $4 a gallon gasoline, and escorted by a chorus of "dill baby drill," a two decade long bi-partisan policy that had helped protect oceans from more catastrophic spills was allowed to expire.
It's a fool's bargain. Any oil found in U.S. waters will get sold into a world market. So that means Americans would take 100 percent of the environmental risk of new domestic drilling and share most of any price benefit with the Chinese, Indians, Europeans and the rest of the oil-consuming world. Moreover, demand is often decisive in setting the price of oil. How did America get $2 a gallon gasoline this winter? Not because of new oil discoveries.
Along with oil spills and leaks that are toxic to the food and jobs that depend on abundant oceans, seismic exploration harms dolphins, whales and other cetaceans. Moreover, increased ocean oil drilling damages the oceans by promoting acidification. This is the change in ocean chemistry that is already occurring as the oceans absorb increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. An acidic ocean is one in which coral reefs dissolve, and in which creatures at the bottom of the ocean food chain can no longer create their shells.
The United States government should immediately reinstate the moratorium on drilling for oil on the outer continental shelf in the lower forty eight states and in Bristol Bay, Alaska. And it should suspend any further leasing or exploration in the Arctic as well.
So where should we go to get essential energy? The answer may surprise you.
We should turn to the oceans as a source of energy - carbon-free energy.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the North American coasts contain enough wind power to sustain America's energy use six times over. Offshore wind can generate nearly $950 billion in economic activity and create more than 250,000 jobs.
Clean ocean energy will help provide the jobs and the energy the world needs. The risks of expanded drilling to our coastal economies and wildlife are too great, and the potential energy payoff too little, at a time when we should be shifting to a sustainable clean energy economy.
Since January 2009, Oceana has been a leading voice in the fight to restore sensible balance to American ocean energy policy. Both our board member Ted Danson and our scientist Dr. Jeffrey Short have testified before Congress in that short time on this vital issue. If you are a citizen of the U.S., I hope you will contact your Representative or Senator today and insist that they reinstate the ocean moratorium and support clean ocean energy.
For the Oceans,