The Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, a group of seven Republican governors representing Alaska, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina, will soon have its first Democratic member: Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe.
McAuliffe joined the coalition, which works to expand offshore drilling, for a meeting with Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Monday morning. The group of governors urged the Secretary to approve seismic airgun testing, the first step in offshore drilling.
McAuliffe and members of the coalition cited “millions of dollars” and “thousands of new jobs for rural coastal communities” as primary reasons for supporting expanding offshore drilling to the Atlantic. Even if these numbers are accurate, the risks associated with offshore drilling are far too great.
For one, no matter how much money or how many jobs offshore drilling might bring to our coastal communities, it’s not worth the risk of a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. Nearly four years after the massive BP oil spill, communities and ecosystems in the Gulf are still devastated.
But before marine life and coastal communities face the potential for oil spills, they must withstand the constant, dangerously loud noise created by seismic airguns. The Department of the Interior estimates that 138,500 whales and dolphins will be injured by seismic airgun testing in the proposed survey area, which spans the east coast from Delaware to Florida. The critically endangered North Atlantic right whale is particularly vulnerable: approximately 500 individuals remain in the world, and they all live exclusively in the proposed blast zone.
Seismic airguns and expanded drilling also pose a significant risk to coastal economies. In Virginia alone, ocean resources that are directly threatened by seismic airgun testing and offshore drilling support over 100,000 jobs in tourism, recreation, and commercial and recreational fishing. The GDP from Virginia’s living resources, which includes fishing, hatcheries, aquaculture, seafood processing, and seafood markets, is valued at over $574 million.
What McAuliffe and the other members of the Coalition fail to recognize is that the “millions of dollars” and “thousands of jobs” that will supposedly come from an offshore drilling industry may come at the expense of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs that are already sustained by a clean, healthy, vibrant ocean. Will we sacrifice the health of our ocean to replace established jobs in the fishing and tourism industries for temporary jobs blasting and drilling for oil?
The Coalition did get one thing right: at the end of the meeting, they urged Secretary Jewell to work to expand offshore wind power. In Virginia, we have the potential to produce 16 GW of electricity, enough to eliminate the need for all of our state’s fossil fuel power plants. In addition, a thriving offshore wind industry would produce as many jobs as offshore drilling, if not more.
McAuliffe and the OCS Governors Coalition’s meeting with Jewell came just days before a major milestone in our fight against seismic and expanded drilling: the draft final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on seismic in the Atlantic is expected to be released today, Feburary 27.
Stay tuned for the latest updates on this crucially important fight.