Santa Cruz resident Kaitilin Gaffney reflects on the Department of the Interior's Offshore Drilling Proposal in today's Red Green and Blue:
You could practically hear folks from Seattle to San Diego breathe a big ol’ sigh of relief after the Department of the Interior released its proposed program for offshore oil and gas leasing through 2017 earlier this month. The good news is that Interior Department's program does not propose new oil and gas lease sales off the West Coast.
With ocean wildlife from the tiniest krill to giant blue whales put at serious risk by any potential oil spill, the announcement that the Pacific was off the hook for new leases was an early holiday gift to coastal communities here in California.
Unfortunately, other regions of the U.S. were not so lucky. Our insatiable demand for oil isn’t dissipating anytime soon. The proposed leasing program calls for potential lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico as well as in the remote, pristine and ecologically vulnerable Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the Arctic, north and west of Alaska.
With the graphic images of destruction from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster still fresh in our minds, the determination to avoid a repeat of that tragedy remains strong. Lessons learned after the fact suggest two key needs to keep our ocean, coastal population and marine life safe. First, we need better science about the wildlife, environment and communities that will be put at risk by oil development to inform decisions about whether, where, when and how to drill. Second, improved oil spill prevention and response preparedness must come before any new actions potentially threatening marine health are begun.
In the simplest of terms, if we can’t clean it up, we better make sure it doesn’t get spilled in the first place.
In the Gulf of Mexico, we have learned the hard way that we need to take a very careful approach to future oil and gas activities to ensure a healthy Gulf and resilient communities. Surely we owe the people and wildlife of the Gulf Coast a future free of oil spills.
In the Arctic, additional oil leases should be put on ice.
Just like the California coast, the Beaufort and Chukchi seas are a haven for both resident and migratory ocean wildlife. The areas provide vital habitat for walruses, ice-dependent seals, polar bears, bowhead whales and migratory birds. The Arctic also plays a vital role in regulating the planet's climate – with the Arctic warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, summer sea ice is disappearing at a stunning rate with potentially serious impacts on both wildlife and Arctic people. The region faces dramatic threats already, even without the added pressure of additional oil and gas development.
As the Cosco Busan and BP disasters have shown, even under the best of conditions and using the most current technologies, producing and transporting oil is an inherently risky business, and can and does result in catastrophic oil spills. Currently, there is no adequate technology, technique or infrastructure to respond effectively to an oil spill in icy Arctic waters. Darkness, hazardous weather, or sea conditions could delay spill response for weeks.
Here in California, we have plenty to be thankful for this holiday week. Our coast is protected from new leasing – at least for now. And last month, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Oil Spill Response and Prevention bill, ensuring that California has the staff and capacity over the next three years to prevent and clean up costly oil spills. With four national marine sanctuaries off our coast that prohibit oil drilling and the nation’s first statewide network of marine protected areas designed to protect the full range of ocean life almost completed, California has made clear the importance of protecting its most beloved natural asset – our coast.
For that I am truly thankful.