The Loma Prietan - July/August 2009

Drills are for Dentists

Speak Up Against Offshore Drilling

by John Wilkinson

An intricate web of life fills the oceans of the world from their shores to their depths. This web includes the largest creatures that have ever lived on Earth, as well as innumerable, as yet unnamed, plants and animals. We have only the dimmest idea how each oceanic species contributes to the flow of life through this web. Since we know so little, we owe the oceans our reverence and respect. Instead, we continue to add to their woes by continuing our old habits of abuse.

Drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is yet another form of insult to the already troubled oceans. Last year the Bush Administration and Congress lifted the moratorium on new oil and gas leases on the OCS, and the Mineral Management Service (MMS) of the Department of the Interior issued a proposal (the Draft Proposed Plan, or DPP) for opening new areas to drilling, including the Mendocino Coast, the Beaufort Sea and other regions in Alaska, the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, and the Gulf of Mexico.

You can help protect the oceans by submitting comments on the draft proposal and on the Environmental Impact Statement that will have to be issued before any leases are granted. (See the sidebar "Make a Difference".)

Interior Secretary Salazar, who is ultimately responsible for any decision on oil and gas leasing, is for the most part on our side. He is very unlikely to authorize new leasing off the Pacific Coast or in the North Atlantic. Accordingly, I suggest making general comments opposing drilling, and in comments on specific areas, emphasizing the need to protect Alaska's waters.

The draft proposal says that we need the oil and that drilling is not all that harmful, especially in view of the supposed need. The need is justified on the basis of extrapolation of current use through 2030. But we simply cannot continue burning fossil fuels at such a rate. By 2030 at the current rate of increase, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere threatens to cause catastrophic temperature increases.

In assessing the possible harm done by drilling, the draft fails to consider all the possible impacts. For example, seismic testing can deafen marine mammals and fish; drilling, either for production or for exploration, also releases toxic drill mud and can break through to undersea aquifers, which often contain radioactive metals such as radium.

The DPP acknowledges that oil spills may kill marine mammals, and that an oil spill could starve native communities. What's a sea lion worth? What's a native community worth?

The Environmental Impact Statement must not pretend that a supposed need for oil can outweigh human and animal lives. An excellent summary of the dangers from offshore oil exploration and drilling is off-drilling, which also demonstrates that opposition to drilling is not confined to dolphinhugging environmentalists.

John Wilkinson chairs the Chapter Wilderness Committee.