There is no contesting the fact that oil spills cause catastrophic damage. The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, one of the worst environmental catastrophes in U.S. history, released 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It killed or injured more than 115,000 birds, sea turtles and marine mammals. Even five years later several popular beaches and fishing spots were still being restored and tens of thousands of people were still waiting for BP to review their claims. Last May at least 140,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, California right before Memorial Day Weekend, which typically draws 25,000 daily visitors to the area who spend $4 million.
Thankfully, coastal communities in the U.S. have been protected for decades from new offshore oil drilling. But that could change soon. For the first time in over 30 years, the Obama Administration is planning to allow oil drilling in areas of the Atlantic Ocean as part of the 2017-2022 leasing plan. This plan will put much of the Eastern coastline at risk, including Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The scale of the threat to our economy, quality of life and health of the environment are difficult to comprehend.
Simply put, drilling in the Atlantic will immediately impact coastal communities along the entire coast.
Take North Carolina’s Outer Banks for example. The oil industry and its proponents claim that such development will bring money, jobs and a higher quality of life to the state. A closer examination reveals the folly of such arguments. The economic benefits associated with oil dwarf in comparison to dollars driven by North Carolina’s recreation and tourism industry, which generates $2.2 billion in gross domestic product and supports over 51,000 jobs in that state alone. If you consider the impact offshore oil drilling has to all of the East Coast, you’re talking about $26 billion and more than 500,000 jobs (according to the National Ocean Economics Program). Offshore oil drilling puts all of this at risk.
And then there are the environmental impacts that occur in every phase of offshore drilling. These include injuries caused to all marine life – from fish to whales – during seismic exploration, and water and air pollution created from routine drilling operations. The installation of platforms and pipelines used to transport oil back to the shore is also devastating. The infrastructure tears up the seabed and any important habitats that lie in its way. As a result, homes, refuges and breeding grounds for myriad marine species are destroyed, including some that are endangered.
The damage of offshore oil drilling begins before a single drop of oil enters the water.
It’s important to remember that when the environment is disrupted, the recreation industry and coastal communities that directly depend on a healthy coastal ecosystem for their livelihood take a blow too.
Then there is the worst-case scenario – a catastrophic oil spill. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill penetrated every facet of the environment, including the seafloor, beaches and wetlands that serve as nurseries for sea life. Five years later, scientists are just beginning to understand the extent of damage to this magnificent ecosystem.
Additionally, the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf is home to the Gulf Stream, one of the most powerful ocean currents in the world. If oil gets into the Gulf Stream, it would quickly spread throughout the Atlantic. Some predicted models show how an oil spill in North Carolina could end up on the shores of Europe.
With all of these risks, we ask, why put thriving economies at risk? Why gamble with our endangered species? Why risk further polluting our ocean and communities lining the coasts?
The risks far outweigh the rewards, which is why offshore drilling is not the answer to our long-term sustainable energy needs. To fight against the potential of offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic, a delegation of coastal recreation industry leaders is meeting with White House officials and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on February 16, 2016 to present petition signatures from hundreds of local businesses along the Eastern Coastline. That petition will come in the form of a surfboard that’s traveled along the coast for the past year, making its way to businesses and members of the coalition adding their name to the cause.
But this action alone will not protect the Atlantic from oil drilling. All citizens who value a healthy coastal ecosystem and the many benefits it provides should ask their federal leaders to oppose new offshore drilling. It’s the only way to sustain the quality of our ocean and beaches, protect wildlife that don’t have a voice of their own, and ensure the livelihood of millions of Americans.
Editor’s Note: This piece was prepared by Dr. Chad Nelsen, CEO of the Surfrider Foundation along with Paul Naude, CEO of Vissla and Environmental Board Chairman of the Surf Industry Manufacturer’s Association.