A View of Offshore Drilling
Presidents request money for distant wars, the congress appropriates it, and this is said to show that The People support those wars. In a true democracy that would be true. But here and now it ain’t necessarily so.
|Sign from a recent protest of the oil spill|
Locally, the refrain is repeated like a litany at a religious service that we support the oil and gas industry, including offshore operations, that we need the products and jobs it generates, that we accept the risks inherent in it, and that there is no alternative. All bow their heads and mumble along with the memorized recitation—or seem to. Because the leaders of this chorus are loud, persistent, and powerful: the chamber of commerce, the politicians, the major antique media. Their opinions echo through all the public discourse, creating the illusion that The People support them. But it ain’t necessarily so.
Many folks used to favor drilling for oil and gas offshore simply because they had never paid close attention to it. They just assumed that the companies and agencies engaged in these operations were competent and careful. Now that automatic trust is gone, replaced by questions and doubt if not accusations and fury. This shift in attitudes hasn’t yet been quantified in polls nor revealed in elections, but it is real and will endure to some degree long after BP’s runaway well is plugged or gushers dry.
Others would share these altered views, except for fears of finding themselves economically beached and stranded. They are incessantly told that other feasible energy options don’t exist, so they tend to believe this: ending offshore drilling would strangle oil jobs and injure the entire economy by energy depletion.
But there are alternatives—necessary ones. Long before BP’s reckless well erupted, the national Sierra Club opposed additional offshore drilling, not only because of the accidental hazards. Even without mishaps, such wells are dangerous because they perpetuate the devotion to burning fossil fuels and dumping the results into the atmosphere. The consequence is a changing climate.
If this continues the warming planet will become inhospitable to humans and the uncounted millions of other species sharing the earth with us, just as the oil slicks and plumes are making the gulf water toxic to its inhabitants. All forms of land and sea life in the region will be affected. Some will adjust but others, though innocent, will be sentenced to extinction.
Despite this the respectable oil fanatics demand an immediate resumption of deepwater drilling. In defense of such compulsions they wield faulty analogies. When a plane crashes, they say, aviation is not shut down. BP’s oil volcano, however, is a much greater tragedy. Hundreds of passengers may die, grief and lawsuits may linger, but the other consequences of a crash are quick and concentrated where the plane comes down. The consequences of BP’s vomiting well are far worse.
They spread cancerously across the region, in the water, on the land, in the air. They are having a cascading effect on all the life in those realms on a huge scale and at minute levels in unknown and unknowable ways. These damages will persist because the oil is seeping into places from which it can never be cleansed. All politicians, commentators, PR agents, and the like who chatter about fixing the gulf coast and making it better than before are dispensing fairy dust.
An honest assessment of the circumstances would acknowledge this and would resolve not to do anything—like a resumption of deepwater drilling—that carries the risk of magnifying these pernicious consequences. Instead, conservation and efficiency of use can save far more energy, easily and rapidly, than chancy offshore drilling will produce. And the national Sierra Club, among others, has researched practical, specific steps for weaning us from fossil fuels. It can be done, and it would generate more jobs than shutting offshore drilling would lose.
Locally, the Mobile Bay Sierra Club joined with many other groups in recent years opposing several schemes to locate liquefied natural gas import facilities here. Some of the offshore proposals would have casually killed the life in surrounding waters, and this threat gathered a stalwart coalition against such plans. The resistance won a redesign of the most looming LNG facility. The altered plan would be much less deadly.
All the opposition then evaporated—except Sierra’s. At formal hearings and other events we continued speaking out against LNG imports. Like oil and coal, this gas is a fossil fuel whose combustion fallout fouls the air and warms the planet. So it continues our industrial society’s destructive addiction rather than leading away from it.
The same outlook applies to oil. Even if the search and extraction of it can be made completely safe—and it cannot—burning immense amounts of oil is still a menace to the nurturing essentials of our sole planetary home.
Several years ago British Petroleum changed its name to BP and launched an ad campaign with a flowery logo and a claim that BP stood for Beyond Petroleum. Lately that phrase has been replaced by soothing crisis management ads. But assuming that Beyond Petroleum wasn’t merely spin, now would be an ideal time for BP to prove it.
They have repeatedly pledged to fix the damage done by their renegade oil. This includes livelihoods lost in fishing and vacation communities and fish and wildlife habitats assaulted across the gulf coast. Much could heal if BP provided a multi-billion dollar start for development of renewable, sustainable energy systems in the places now ruined by the manic quest for oil. That would truly be a step Beyond Petroleum.
Mobile Bay Sierra Club