Last week New York joined a growing list of states opposed to oil and gas drilling off their coasts. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “Save Our Waters” bill prohibit oil and gas leasing, the construction of offshore oil and gas infrastructure on state-owned land, and the transportation of North Atlantic crude oil from offshore wells on the state’s navigable waterways.
This move was in direct response to the Trump Administration’s federal drilling plan, which proposes opening 92 percent of the outer continental shelf to oil and gas exploration, leasing and drilling. This unprecedented move by the administration has been opposed by the governors of California, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Florida. However, in a highly political move, Florida’s GOP Gov. Rick Scott was initially given a pass from the federal drilling program by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke citing that his state is greatly dependent upon its ocean economy. Interior Department officials later walked back Zinke’s statement leaving Florida on the table.
The administration’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling and roll back offshore drilling safety regulations comes less than a decade after the worst oil spill in U.S. history—Deepwater Horizon. Gov. Scott’s decision to exempt Florida from the federal drilling program is likely due to what happen during the 87-day disaster that pumped over 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and injuring 17 others. The Deepwater spill polluted an estimated 1,100 miles of shoreline and caused widespread economic damage to the region’s fishing and tourism industries. More than a third of federal waters in the gulf were closed to fishing and contaminated beaches in four states—Florida being one of them— and the thousands of miles of oil-slicked beaches and sandy tar balls attracted few travelers to the region over the next year.
In its aftermath, over 8,000 animals (birds, turtles, mammals) were reported dead just six months after the spill, including many on the endangered species list. Subsequent scientific studies showed malformations in the larvae of commercially important fish in the region exposed to crude oil during early development.
The plan is based upon President Trump’s Executive Order 13795, which leaves us open to the next, possibly greater drilling disaster. It proposes reviewing certain national marine monuments and sanctuaries and opening key portions of the Atlantic, including sensitive wildlife areas in the Arctic, to oil and gas exploration and drilling. If the president gets his way—71% of all marine waters will be open to oil drilling and exploration versus only three percent before the executive order.
And, a large part of the U.S.—41% of all U.S. territory—will be newly opened. To put this in perspective, it is larger than two of the largest expansions of U.S. territory— the Louisiana Purchase (22.3% of modern U.S.), and the Alaska Purchase (15%)—which required congressional approval.
The potential to devastate fisheries and coastal economies is illustrated by some important facts about the current state of oil and gas technology: roughly 195 million gallons of gas are lost into our oceans yearly from oil extraction, transportation, and consumption. Between 1964 and 2015, a total of over 12 million gallons of oil from 2,440 oil spills were released into the Gulf of Mexico, excluding the over 200 million from the Deepwater Horizon spill. And, let us not forget the countless smaller spills that happen nearly every day that don’t make national headlines. All told, with only $100 million of revenue from oil and gas companies for these leases versus an estimated $150 billion in potential losses that affect jobs up and down the coast, the plan will result in a 99% loss for coastal economies. Given this, it’s no surprise that most coastal state governors oppose the federal oil and gas plan.
With so many proven renewable energy technologies in place today that can propel our country and economy forward in a safe and sustainable way, why are we risking our future on a technology that has proven itself over and over to be catastrophic? Why is such a large part of our territory potentially altered without congressional approval? As a nation, we must stand with Cuomo and the bipartisan group of governors to protect our oceans and coast before it’s too late.
By: Annie Reisewitz, a communications and marketing consultant at Strategic Ocean Solutions.