WASHINGTON D.C. – As the five-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster approaches, a committee hearing on the Obama Administration’s proposal to open up the Atlantic Coast to oil drilling is a stark reminder that those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.
Allowing oil and gas drilling from Virginia to Georgia could subject precious beaches — from North Carolina’s Outer Banks to the Jersey Shore — to a catastrophe like the one that devastated the Gulf, advocates said today.
“Our precious coasts and wildlife must be protected from the kinds of environmental and economic tragedy the BP blowout brought to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Rachel Richardson, director of Environment America’s Stop Drilling program. “That’s why we’re calling on the administration to rescind their dangerous drilling plan.”
The BP Deepwater Horizon blowout on April 20, 2010, killed eleven and injured dozens more. As detailed in a new Environment America fact sheet, for three months following the explosion, millions of gallons of crude oil and thousands of tons of methane spewed from the sea floor.
Today the devastation is far from over. Tar mats, one spanning a quarter-acre and weighing 40,000 pounds, have been discovered on the coast of Mississippi and Louisiana in the last two years. Gulf communities and coastal economies are still suffering, with oyster harvests in 2014 amongst the lowest on record.
Adding insult to injury, BP, which was found grossly negligent for its role in the disaster, has already reaped at least $10 billion in tax windfalls related to the disaster. A forthcoming decision from the Justice Department to address BP’s liability could earn the company an additional $4.9 billion tax windfall.
Today’s oversight hearing in the House Natural Resources Energy subcommittee allowed testimony from only one witness opposed to oil leases in the Atlantic. Emilie Swearingen, a commissioner from Kure Beach, N.C., made the case for protecting her state’s valuable coasts from drilling.
Thankfully, others in Congress have joined Swearingen in speaking out against the proposal to allow oil and gas leases along the Atlantic as soon as 2017.
“As we learned from the BP disaster, offshore oil spills don’t respect state boundaries. Drilling anywhere in the Atlantic would threaten the Massachusetts and New England economies and environment with the possibility of a devastating spill. We should not even contemplate drilling off the East Coast when Congress has failed to enact new standards to protect safety, workers and our environment and when oil companies are continuing to warehouse tens of millions of acres of public land offshore on which they are not producing oil. Congress needs to act to turn the lessons from the BP spill into laws to ensure that we never experience a similar disaster again,” said Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
“I continue to stand with New Jerseyans in opposition to drilling off the Atlantic Coast because we know that a BP-type oil spill off the coast of neighboring states would be an unacceptable risk to our state’s economy and natural resources. More than five years have passed since the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion caused one of the worst environmental disasters in United States history, as well as death and injury to too many workers. Despite the fact that the Congress has not enacted a single law to improve the safety of offshore drilling since that disaster, there are continued calls from Washington to expand drilling off our shores. Our nation must instead focus resources on expansion for alternative sources of energy, like wind and solar power,” said Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.)
These congressional champions for coastal protection are not alone. Half a million citizens have submitted public comments calling on the Administration to rescind its proposal, and thousands have spoken out against the plan in person at public hearings up and down the coast.
“While the Obama Administration has proposed adjusting safety standards for drill rigs, the devastation of oil soaked birds, dead whales, and lasting damage to our communities won’t be prevented by a mere tinkering. The unfortunate fact is that when you drill, you spill,” concluded Richardson.