Today, on Earth Day, President Joe Biden will host a global climate summit, featuring 40 world leaders; and will also roll out new, more ambitious, 2030 climate targets; and challenge attending nations to do the same. The U.S. is not just rejoining – but leading – the global climate stage. This is a crucial step forward to achieving real progress for our blue planet. American oceans, however, are still in need of lasting protection from a threat that is fueling the climate crisis: offshore oil drilling.
CO2 from fossil fuels is a key driver of the climate disaster – a fact known to oil giant Exxon (now ExxonMobil) as early as 1977. More offshore drilling means more fossil fuels and oil spills. If President Biden is serious about addressing climate change, and protecting the oceans, he needs to take steps to stop the expansion of offshore oil.
This week is also the 11th anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. More than 200 million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. The disaster killed trillions of larval fish and invertebrates and reduced total sales in the seafood industry by as much as $950 million. And, this disaster devastated coastal economies dependent on tourism, and put hard-working Americans out of work.
In January, President Biden issued an executive order to pause all federal offshore oil and gas leasing. This victory came after years of grassroots campaigning by Oceana and our allies. Support came from every East and West Coast governor; more than 390 local municipalities; over 2,300 local, state, and federal bipartisan officials; and alliances representing more than 55,000 businesses.
Just a couple of weeks later, President Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, cancelled the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and today, is hosting the Leaders Summit on Climate, where world leaders will gather to address “the climate crisis, including emissions reductions, finance, innovation and job creation, and resilience and adaptation.”
We are calling for President Biden to – as his next big climate push – turn the pause for new offshore drilling into a permanent ban. According to a new Oceana report, permanently ending new leasing for offshore oil and gas could prevent over 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas from being emitted. That’s the equivalent to taking every car in the U.S. off the road for 15 years. Permanent protection could also avoid more than $720 billion in damages to people, property, and the environment.
Even Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil and gas producer, knows that oil is on its way out. In the fine print of a presentation of future clean energy efforts, the company announced its production peaked in 2019 and will now continue to decline, The New York Times reported earlier this year. While we all know that oil is a finite, non-renewable resource, this is a telling statement coming from one of the world’s leading oil producers. Additionally, oil companies, including Shell, are investing in more renewable energy, like wind and solar. In the United States, Crowley Maritime Corp., a shipping company that has worked with the oil industry for decades, announced its investment in renewable sources including offshore wind.
If developed responsibly, and with strong protections for the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, offshore wind in the U.S. has the potential to generate more electricity than our nation currently demands. This is the right direction. Investing in more clean and responsible wind power and less offshore oil means fewer oil spills and better protection for the industries that rely on a healthy ocean and a clean coast – U.S. coastal tourism, recreation, and fishing-based businesses support around 3.3 million American jobs and $250 billion in GDP.
The next big opportunity for President Biden on addressing the climate disaster can be found in the oceans. It’s time for President Biden and the United States to move away from offshore oil and to instead prioritize responsible development of offshore wind and other energy options that will help tackle and not worsen the climate disaster, as well as to provide better protection to our coastal economies. Our planet – and the oceans and those who depend on them – cannot afford to wait.