For decades our coasts were protected from new offshore oil drilling. Unfortunately,
circumstances changed in 2008 when former President Bush lifted a White House
moratorium on offshore drilling. Congress later followed suit by allowing a Federal
ban on drilling to expire. In March 2010 the Obama administration indicated that they would also potentially allow drilling along several formerly protected areas of coastline, including the along the mid- and south-Atlantic coast and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Then came the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig blowout in April 2010 that released approximately 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico; fouled beaches and coastal wetlands from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle; killed birds, fish and marine mammals; and devastated the recreation and fishing-based economies of the Gulf States. These horrific developments caused the Obama administration to change course and on December 1, 2010 it was announced that the East and West Coasts as well as the eastern Gulf would continue to be protected from new offshore drilling in the 2012-2017 leasing plan. Despite this, the oil industry and others are continuing to put pressure on Congress to open up additional coastal areas to offshore oil drilling. If fact, the Obama administration has apparently yielded to this pressure and has included the waters off Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia in their draft 2017-2022 offshore leasing plan, which was released in January 2015. An analysis by Oceana demonstrates why this would be dangerous and unnecessary. A few months' worth of oil are not worth risking our beaches and coastal economy.
The Surfrider Foundation is opposed to offshore oil drilling in new areas. Our nation’s oceans, waves and beaches are vital recreational, economic and ecological treasures that will be polluted by an increase in offshore oil drilling. Instead of advocating for transient and environmentally harmful ways to meet America’s oil needs, we should seek a comprehensive and environmentally sustainable energy plan that includes energy conservation.
As we have seen with the Deepwater Horizon disaster, offshore oil drilling and oil spills have the potential to critically impact pristine marine ecosystems. Offshore oil drilling can also lead to industrialization of our coastlines. While there are numerous environmental problems associated with oil drilling, there are also negative economic impacts that we simply cannot afford during hard economic times. This article is intended to outline potential impacts of offshore oil drilling, and also to dispel myths that have been put forth by oil drilling proponents.
Ultimately, America cannot drill our way out of an oil consumption problem. We must look toward sustainable solutions that protect our natural resources, rather than drilling for fossil fuels off our coasts. It is in the best interest of our environment and economy to wean America off oil, and develop a sustainable “energy portfolio” that includes renewable sources and conservation.
Energy conservation is the most economical and environmental way to achieve energy independence from fossil fuels. Riding mass transit, increasing auto efficiency, improving building insulation, and better management of electrical use in homes/businesses, are just a few ways we can reduce our oil and energy consumption. Conservation is much cheaper and healthier than investing in further development of dwindling offshore oil reserves.
It’s imperative that America shifts away from an old mindset of relying on fossil fuels. Climate change, and other environmental problems are not waiting for us to ‘rebuild our energy portfolio’. Oil drilling and continued use of fossil fuels will only exacerbate climate change, and keep us trapped in a ‘backwards frame of mind’ which overlooks sustainable energy and conservation. The answers for sustainable energy are already in front of us—and new offshore drilling is not part of the answer.
There are serious environmental impacts associated with each stage of offshore drilling. While some impacts may not be seen by the naked eye, there are a myriad of impacts that local communities and elected officials must know about before considering new oil drilling. Because the Surfrider Foundation is so concerned about the environmental ramifications of drilling, we have chosen to highlight the most harmful impacts for this article.
Before scrutinizing ‘oil drilling myths’, it’s important to examine economic
arguments that prove our coastal communities are the mainstay of the U.S.
economy and will undoubtedly suffer economically if new drilling occurs. The
potential of catastrophic oil spills, not to mention the eyesore of an industrialized
coastline, could throw our already fragile economy into a tailspin.
Nothing proves this point more than a recent study conducted by the National Ocean Economics Program showing our “ocean economy” (specifically focusing on tourism and recreation) contributes three times the amount of money to the U.S. economy, compared to offshore oil production.
The report defines “ocean economy” as: ocean resources that have a direct or indirect input of goods and services to an economic activity. Nearly 75% of jobs within the “ocean economy” sector are related to coastal tourism and recreation. Coastal tourism contributes significantly to the U.S. economy. Offshore drilling could put coastal economies at risk and therefore have an impact on our larger economy.
COASTAL TOURISM REVENUE
Note: revenue calculations are conservative estimates based on leisure and hospitality
|State||Billions of Dollars, 2007|
In addition to tourism and recreation being impacted by drilling, fishing industries could also be disrupted and uprooted. Seismic surveys, oil rig construction, potential spills, and decommissioning activities may displace fisherman. The fishing industry is another pillar in our U.S. economy that we cannot afford to put in jeopardy.
FISHING GENERATED INCOME BY REGION
|Region||Recreational Fishing||Commercial Fishing|
MYTH: By expanding offshore drilling, America can wean itself off “foreign oil”.
Reality: A Congressional report from 2003 indicated that increasing offshore
production would not significantly reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil. By completely developing our oceans for oil extraction, the Department of Energy estimates that oil imports would be reduced by a mere 2.5% in 2030, at which point we will have begun exhausting our offshore potential. The term “foreign oil”
typically conjures up oil that is sourced from Middle East or OPEC nations. In
actuality, the United States imports nearly half its oil from non-OPEC
people are surprised to find out that America’s receives approximately 30% of its oil
from North America. In fact, Canada and Mexico are two of the largest oil
suppliers for the U.S.
The United States is the world’s largest consumer of oil, churning through 18.8 million barrels a day. By contrast, the United States only produces about 9 million barrels a day. According to the Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Boston University, even under the most optimistic 'drill baby drill' scenario, the U.S. would only produce an additional 2 to 4 million barrels a day, still leaving us with a large import deficit. Even with new drilling, the U.S. would still need to import about 40% of its daily oil consumption. 
The U.S. needs a comprehensive energy plan that doesn’t contradict itself! While the U.S. imports a large amount of oil, we are also exporting our own oil. Believe it or not, the U.S. exports about 12 million barrels a year of oil. Why should we drill, if the U.S. is exporting oil? U.S. oil exports have steadily increased over the past 30 years and the trend doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.
MYTH: New offshore oil drilling will give Americans “relief at the pump”.
Reality: The U.S. Energy Information Administration (part of the Department of
Energy) stated: “…[drilling in] the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would
not have a significant impact on oil prices before 2030”. The report continues to
say: “Because oil prices are determined on the international market … any impact
on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.” The estimated maximum reduction in gas prices from increased offshore drilling is three to four cents a gallon. 
So, let’s get this straight… we have to wait several years in order to experience a tiny amount of relief at the pump? And while we’re waiting for “relief at the pump”, we would be harming our economy and environment by drilling. This doesn’t seem like the right answer!
MYTH: Offshore drilling will help us ensure our Nation’s long-term energy needs.
Reality: Even under the best‐case scenario, America’s offshore oil reserves would provide us only 920 days, or 18 months, supply of oil at our current rate of consumption. A recent study shows new drilling will not help long‐term energy needs. Here’s an analysis for each region:
This doesn’t seem like “long‐term” energy security.
MYTH: Advances in drilling technology have made offshore drilling “safer”.
Reality: New technology is far from safe as proven by numerous recent spills,
including the latest huge spills in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Australia. The Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout in April 2010 gushed for three months and totaled approximately 200 million gallons (about 4.7 million barrels). Off the west coast of Australia, using “state of the art”
technology flaunted by oil companies, an oil rig blew out in 2009, spilling at least 400 barrels
of oil per day (estimate by oil company) and could have been as much as 2,000
barrels a day (estimate by Australia Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism).
That spill covered thousands of square miles of ocean and was not able to be
stopped for over two months.
There are claims by oil drilling proponents that “sub-sea drilling” can be done safely and ‘kept out of sight’. However, a recent investigative report exposed the truth that sub-sea drilling installations are almost entirely used in depths greater than 5,000 feet. Coastal waters off both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts only run a few hundred feet deep.
For example, in certain areas of the Pacific along the continental shelf, it’s estimated waters are approximately 650 feet deep. Most waters off the coast of Florida run no deeper than 100 feet.
We know from experience that platforms are not safe in the face of powerful storms. This was illustrated in the Gulf of Mexico when both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita damaged a combined total of 124 platforms and spilled at least 741,400 gallons of oil.
MYTH: Potential economic benefits of offshore drilling “outweigh the risks”.
Reality: In most instances, risk assessments of offshore drilling fail to take into
consideration the potential risk to our beaches and coastlines in terms of their
functioning as economic engines. As discussed above, our coastlines are single-handedly the biggest revenue source for our economy. Our nation’s oceans,
waves and beaches are vital recreational, economic and ecological treasures that
will be polluted by an increase in offshore oil drilling. Why bother with such risk?
Images of oiled marine life and vast amounts of oil covering the ocean have been
permanently etched into our hearts and minds over the years. America needs to
conserve energy, protect our natural resources and look for innovative ways to
build a sustainable ‘energy portfolio’. Offshore oil drilling is Not the Answer.