A few weeks ago, President Barack Obama advocated expanding offshore oil drilling in a misguided attempt to reach out to Republicans on energy legislation. The president told a town-hall meeting audience on April 2, “It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced.” Think Progress exposed the inaccuracies in the president’s comments at the time, and the April 20 explosion at British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig was a tragic reminder of how much can go wrong with offshore drilling. Eleven workers were killed in the accident, and the resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico still has not been contained. If it hits the Gulf Coast, the environmental and economic damage will be immense.
Last week, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted that the tragedy had not given the president second thoughts about offshore drilling:
Obama still believes that “we have to have a comprehensive solution to our energy problems,” and the spill did not open up new questions about his drilling plan, [Gibbs] said. […]
“We need the increased production. The president still continues to believe the great majority of that can be done safely, securely and without any harm to the environment,” he said.
However, presidential adviser David Axelrod announced on ABC’s Good Morning America program today that
there’s a moratorium on the expansion until the recent spill can be controlled and investigated.
“No additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what happened here,” he said.
Mike Lillis is absolutely right:
For the White House, the timing of the spill couldn’t have been worse. If Obama had stuck with his guns in opposing new drilling, he’d be seen as a prophet in the wake of this week’s Gulf disaster. Instead, by trying to make concessions to Republicans – most of whom won’t support a climate bill in any event – he’s simply alienated his conservation-minded supporters to no tangible benefit.
Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, says that any climate change bill including more offshore drilling will be “dead on arrival” in Congress. Let’s hope that message will resonates with the president. I also hope the administration will follow through on promises to make BP pay the full cost of cleaning up the oil spill.
On a related note, Mike Soraghan reports in the New York Times that BP “joined with other oil companies last year to oppose stricter safety and environmental rules” for oil rigs. I’m not surprised, and I’m not optimistic that the current disaster will lead to significantly stronger regulations on existing rigs.
UPDATE: I posted the Sierra Club’s statement after the jump. It’s worth a read.
GULF COAST–(ENEWSPF)–April 30, 2010. As oil from a massive Gulf Coast offshore drilling disaster began to touch the shoreline, White House senior adviser David Axelrod announced on Good Morning America that “no additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what happened here.”
In response to the spill, Sierra Club has created an online Oil Spill Action Center with updated information, and volunteer sign-ups.
Statement of Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune:
We are pleased that the White House is signaling a suspension of any new off-shore drilling during the investigation, but there should be no doubt left that drilling is too dirty and dangerous for our coasts and the people who live there. This offshore facility was supposed to be state-of-the-art. We’ve been assured again and again that the hundreds of offshore drilling rigs along our beaches are completely safe. Now, we’ve seen workers tragically killed. We’ve seen our ocean lit on fire, and now we’re watching hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic oil seep towards wetlands and wildlife habitat.
This same disaster could happen at any one of the hundreds of drilling platforms off our coasts, at any moment. It could happen at the drilling sites they’ve proposed opening along the beaches of the Atlantic Coast.
We don’t need to pay this price for energy. We have plenty of clean energy solutions already in place that will end our dependence on dirty fossil fuels, create good, safe jobs, and breathe new life into our economy. We can save more oil through simple efficiency measures than could be recovered by new drilling on our coastlines.
This disaster changes everything. We have hit rock-bottom in our fossil fuel addiction. This tragedy should be a wake up call. It’s time to take offshore drilling off the table for good.
Oil Spill Facts:
* The oil spill exceeds the worst-case scenario predicted by BP when it filed its exploration plan with the government. The spill is estimated at roughly 210,000 gallons a day. In BP’s exploration plan, the company outlined a worst-case scenario of 162,000 gallons a day.
* The disaster may have been prevented by a special shut-off switch, but BP did not purchase the switch and after drilling companies questioned its cost and effectiveness, the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling, decided the device wasn’t needed. [Wall St. Journal 4/30/2010]
* At its current rate, the spill could surpass by next week the size of the 1969 Santa Barbara spill that helped lead to the far-reaching moratorium on oil and gas drilling off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts
* Some estimates show it could take 3-4 months to contain the spill. By that time, the spill could exceed the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.
* 59 Fatalities, More Than 1,300 Injuries, 853 Fires. There have been nearly 60 casualties and more than 1,300 injuries on the rigs in the Gulf of Mexico alone since 2001. “Working in the oil industry is more dangerous than working in coal mines.” CBS, 4/22/2010
* $5.6 Billion In Profits. During the first quarter of 2010, “BP said its profit rose to $6.08 billion from $2.56 billion during the same period of 2009. Excluding the impact of energy prices on unsold inventories as well as $49 million of one-time items, and BP would have earned $5.65 billion, topping consensus estimates by about $900 million.” Profits increased 135% from 2009. Bloomberg, 4/27/2010
* 41% Raise For BP’s CEO. “Chief Executive Tony Hayward’s total remuneration and share awards rose 41% in 2009 on performance bonuses from improved operations which made the company one of the best performing oil majors in the fourth quarter, despite lower full-year profits due to the fall in the oil price.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/5/2010]
* $16 Million In Lobbying. BP spent $16 million lobbying in 2009. Opensecrets
* $3 Billion In The World’s Dirtiest Oil. Meanwhile the company invested $3 billion in 2007 in the dirtiest source of oil on earth: Canadian tar sands. “The result will be the development of a major new Canadian oil field and the modernization and expansion of the Toledo refinery to allow far greater use of Canadian heavy oil and to increase clean fuels production by as much as 600,000 gallons a day.” Climate Progress, 12/18/2007
* $900 Million In Alternative Energy Budget Cuts. In 2009, BP cut its alternative energy budget to between $500 million and $1 billion from $1.4 billion in 2008. “BP has shut down its alternative energy headquarters in London, accepted the resignation of its clean energy boss and imposed budget cuts in moves likely to be seen by environmental critics as further signs of the oil group moving “back to petroleum.” [The Guardian, 6/28/2009]