As I write this, we are experiencing the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of the United States. The Deepwater Drilling Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to gush more oil into the ocean than the wreck of the Exxon Valdez.
Its damage to the commercial and recreational fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico could extend generations into the future. And our beaches – from Louisiana to the Florida Keys – could suffer from an oil well 42 miles off the coast.
- Much of America’s seafood comes from the Gulf of Mexico. The fisheries that produce 73 percent of America’s shrimp and 59 percent of America’s oysters are closed.
- Nearly 200,000 jobs in Louisiana, Texas and Florida depend on commercial fishing.
- Tourism in the Gulf is a $4 billion economy.
- One of the world’s two spawning areas for the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna is in the Gulf of Mexico, right where the oil is gushing. Spawning season is now.
- Every single species of sea turtle found in the Gulf is already threatened or endangered by extinction under the terms of the Endangered Species Act.
Two years ago, President Bush ended a policy prohibiting ocean oil drilling in new areas of the lower 48 states, and then Congress allowed a similar policy it had agreed to every year for 26 years to lapse. That same year, at a national political convention, politicians chanted “Drill, Baby, Drill.” On March 31, just three weeks prior to the Deepwater Drilling Diaster, President Obama announced that the east coast of the U.S. from Delaware to Florida would be opened, for the first time, to oil and gas exploration.
Then, on April 20, as they were installing a plug on a well drilled 5,000 feet below the ocean surface, operators of a technically advanced deep water oil drilling platform triggered an explosion, killing eleven people and beginning an uncontrolled release of at least 210,000 gallons of oil a day - but experts agree it is probably much more.
President Obama should admit that he made a mistake in relying on the assurances of the oil companies that their ocean drilling technologies were safe. To protect our remaining beaches and fisheries from a similar catastrophe, he should impose a ban on ocean oil drilling. If he won’t act, Congress should.
And the President needs to protect the Arctic. This summer, Shell intends to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic Ocean. The Deepwater Drilling Disaster occurred from drilling an exploratory well. No new safety procedures, spill response plans or impact reviews have occurred since the disaster, yet our government is on track to put our oceans at risk yet again, and this time in a less forgiving environment.
In February 2009, Oceana board member Ted Danson testified before Congress, repeatedly calling on the government to protect our oceans from the risks of offshore drilling. We followed that testimony with scientific reports, press work, online campaigning and persistent lobbying to build support for keeping our oceans out of the hands of the oil companies.
Oceana supports affordable energy while reducing our carbon dioxide emissions. This can be provided by clean, renewable sources including ocean wind power.
We launched StopTheDrill.org, a petition site that allows people to sign on to end new drilling. Within a week, nearly 50,000 people signed. I hope you will add your name to the list.
We thank you for your support. Your generous support gives Oceana the resources we need to convert this disaster into lasting protections from oil drilling for our beaches and fisheries.
For the oceans,
Oceana is grateful for the grants, contributions and support it has received from dozens of foundations and companies and thousands of individuals. Oceana wishes to thank all of its supporters, especially its founding funders as well as foundations that in 2009 awarded Oceana grants of $1 million or more: Arcadia Fund, Oak Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Sandler Foundation. For more information, please see Oceana’s annual reports at www.oceana.org/annualreport.