The recent Interior Department proposal to allow offshore oil and gas drilling along the East Coast is simply absurd.
Waves of drilling could likely precede waves of oil lapping at the shores of our beloved beaches and storied seaports, imperiling fish, wildlife, local economies and treasured ways of life. The potential rewards for Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay are not worth the risk of more seismic testing, let alone another calamitous spill.
The oil and gas industry frequently tells us that drilling rigs are now accident proof, pipelines rarely break, and tankers hardly ever sink. In truth, the U.S. averages a decent-sized oil spill every day under current levels of production.
We don’t need to look beyond the storied Yellowstone River to see the risk. It suffered a major infusion of petrochemicals following a pipeline rupture last month, contaminating the local drinking water supplies in Glendive, Mont., with cancer-causing benzene.
An even more poignant reminder is found along the Gulf of Mexico, where the damage from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster is far from being reversed. In fact, that spill’s damage still isn’t fully understood, as teams of state and federal trustees continue to grapple with the herculean task of tabulating the total ecological and economic damage.
At about the same time oil started spewing into the Yellowstone, a federal judge in New Orleans considering BP’s liability for the Deepwater Horizon spill under the Clean Water Act finally arrived at the most credible estimate of how much oil was released into the Gulf of Mexico, 3.19 million barrels. Even if you cannot fathom just how much oil this represents, the fact that it has taken almost five years from the start of the Deepwater Horizon spill to realistically calculate the volume of oil that it released should tell us just how huge of a threat offshore drilling poses.
The Interior Department proposal for East Coast offshore drilling contains provisions that oil and gas rigs could not be located within 50 miles of the Atlantic coastline. This may sound far, but consider that it took merely two weeks for the first tar balls from Deepwater Horizon to travel about 40 miles to shore.
The U.S. is now the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas — without drilling off the fragile Atlantic or the Pacific coasts. Worldwide, the price of oil and the cost of clean energy alternatives are at near-record lows. The cost-benefit has never been better to focus our investments on renewable energy sources that move us away from our risky dependence on fossil fuels.
The Interior Department will allow the public to comment on its proposal to expand East Coast drilling later this year. I urge everyone who cares about our coasts to join me in speaking out loudly against the plan. We need to make it clear that the health and vitality of our oceans and coasts must not be sacrificed.
The writer, a Democrat, is the junior U.S. senator from Maryland.