By Rachel Kaufman
At TedXOilSpill, a daylong event in Washington, D.C. trying to find solutions to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless took the time to answer ten questions about oil and energy usually asked by “people who don’t support policies that could create something good out of this catastrophe.” (Oceana is a nonprofit ocean conservation organization calling for an end to offshore drilling.)
Use these when arguing against your cynical uncle or Rush Limbaugh:
1) Isn’t this Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster like an airplane crash? And we don’t shut down avation when planes crash.
A) No, this is not like an airplane crash. In an airplane crash, most of the victims are those who were on the airplane. The victims here are the millions of people living in the Gulf. This is more like the guy who built a campfire in the dry season, against regulations, and burned down the national forest. That’s why we have regulations against building campfires during the dry season: Not because every camper burns down his campsite, but because all we need is one.
2) There are 3,600 drilling platforms in the Gulf. Are you going to shut them all down?
A) We’re not calling for a shutdown of the platforms, just of drilling. Once you’ve drilled, the risks decrease.
3) Isn’t this just a deep-water problem? Can’t we continue in the shallow water?
A) Ocean drilling in shallow water is very risky. One of the top three oil drilling disasters of all time, Ixtoc 1, was in just hundreds of feet of water. [Sharpless added that last summer, a blow-out on the Montara rig off the coast of Australia spilled millions of gallons of oil in over 10 weeks before a relief well stopped the flow. Montara was just 240 feet underwater.]
4) OK then, don’t we need to keep drilling in the ocean to keep gas affordable?
A) No. We import 60 percent of our oil. When BP, or any other oil company, discovers oil off the coast of America, do they sell it at a special discount or do they sell It at the price we have already shown we are willing to pay? The market price is set at the world market. Any find in American waters will be sold at the market price. So the people who chanted, “Drill, baby, drill!” two summers ago and said this was a way to solve four-dollar-a-gallon gas, they were wrong.
5) Don’t we need to drill for energy independence?
A) There is a path to energy independence, but it’s not through drilling, in sea or land. As President Obama said, we cannot drill our way to energy independence. But we can become energy independent. [Sharpless added that the United States consumes 20 percent of the world’s oil, but only has 2 percent of the world’s reserves.]
6) Don’t we need to drill for jobs?
A) This [Deepwater rig disaster] proves one thing: if you thought ocean drilling was good for jobs, you were wrong. Three hundred thousand recreational fishing jobs in the Gulf have been lost already. Clean investments provide three times the jobs per dollar invested.
7.) If we don’t drill, won’t we displace demand to less safe places?
A) America should lead. If our policy is, “We cannot clean up and manage our oceans until the lowest, slowest, most dirtiest, most corrupted government does it,” that is not a path we want to be part of.
8) If ocean wind power is such a good idea, why isn’t it happening?
A) Guess who has been given authority for ocean wind power in America? The MMS, the same people who approved the Deepwater rig.
9) Won’t ocean wind power hurt the oceans?
A) [Sharpless cited studies saying that ocean power can be used safely with little harm to the ecosystem.]
10) Ocean wind power is great, but I don’t use electricity in my car.
A) “Well, I think you will someday,” quipped Sharpless as he walked offstage.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard