Right now, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is formulating a new plan for offshore oil and gas drilling. This federal plan will be in effect from 2017 to 2022, and will determine which areas will be made available for oil drilling off US coasts. The current 2012-2017 plan restricts drilling to parts of Alaska and the waters of the western Gulf of Mexico. BOEM is now proposing to add the entire Atlantic and Pacific coasts to the new five year plan, as well as the eastern Gulf and additional areas off Alaska. The oil industry views this proposal as a way to increase business, and therefore industry representatives and lobbyists have submitted thousands of comments to BOEM in support of expanding the areas open to oil drilling. Their efforts are further encouraged by the Obama Administration’s decision to conduct a seismic survey in the Atlantic. Results from this survey, which will inevitably harm and possibly kill countless marine mammals and invertebrates, could pinpoint natural gas and oil deposits along the continental shelf, thus inviting drilling to take place. The period to submit comments to BOEM on the proposed 2017-2022 plan closed on August 15. Unfortunately, it appears that more comments were submitted in support of the proposed plan than against it.
Opening up oil drilling to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts not only steers the focus of the nation away from developing more sustainable energy practices, but also comes with the risk of catastrophic damage to coastal, marine, and human environments. The daily operations of offshore rigs results in the dumping of toxic metals and carcinogens into the ocean. Produced water, which is often contaminated with oil, is also discharged from rigs daily.
Perhaps the largest environmental concern in regard to offshore drilling is oil spills. Oil spills contaminate sediment, smother and kill wildlife, and the pollution remains in the ecosystem for years afterwards. In 2007, a study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) found that over 25,000 gallons of oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill was still caught in Alaskan sand. We have not yet developed effective oil spill response methods, made ever more evident by the events following the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill which poured oil into the ocean for 87 days. A spill such as this has negative effects on coastal economies as well. During the spill, NOAA declared 19% of the entire Gulf a no fishing zone, greatly affecting the seafood and recreational industries. Tourism during this period also dropped at drastic rates. Recently, a U.S. District Judge ruled that BP acted with gross negligence leading to the spill. Studies continue to be released that document long term negative impacts to marine life and the health of people exposed to the spill and its aftermath.
The Atlantic coast has been under a drilling moratorium for decades and changing that now, when the need for sustainable energy sources is at its highest and the marine environment is in its most vulnerable state yet, does not make sense.
News articles about the harmful effects of the BP Gulf oil spill: