Editor: The following timely piece is by former OBcean and former member of the original OB Rag staff in the mid-Seventies, David Helvarg, who now resides in San Francisco.
By David Helvarg/ Los Angeles Times / Originally posted April 01, 2010|
It’s like advocating a healthy diet based on fast food, speed and low-tar cigarettes.
President Obama’s decision to have Interior Secretary Ken Salazar open vast new areas of federal ocean waters to offshore oil drilling is no surprise. In his State of the Union address, the president explained that his vision for a clean energy future included offshore drilling, nuclear power and clean coal. Unfortunately, that’s like advocating a healthy diet based on fast-food snacking, amphetamines and low-tar cigarettes.
If the arguments you hear in the coming days for expanded drilling sound familiar, it’s because they’ve been repeated for generations. We’ve been hearing promises about safer drilling technologies since before Union Oil began drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel. And if you don’t remember what happened that time, you should. Soon after the wells were bored, one of them blew out in January 1969, causing a massive oil slick that slimed beaches and killed birds, fish and marine mammals. The resulting catastrophe helped spark the modern environmental movement.
The president has promised no new drilling off the West Coast, and it’s no wonder. Opposition was unified and vociferous during Salazar’s public hearing on offshore energy development in San Francisco in April 2009. More than 500 people — including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Gov. Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, California’s lieutenant governor and four House members — testified and rallied for clean energy and against any new oil drilling.
Boxer noted that the coast was a treasure and a huge economic asset “just as is,” generating $24 billion a year and 390,000 jobs.
Still, in the new Department of Interior announcement, one can hear echoes of President Reagan’s Interior secretary, Don Hodel, who warned us in the 1980s that if we didn’t expand offshore drilling, we’d be “putting ourselves at the tender mercies of OPEC.”
We did expand offshore drilling then, not off the stunning redwood coastline of Mendocino, Calif., as Hodel wanted, but where the oil industry knew most of the oil and gas actually was and is: in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We even created a royalty moratorium for the oil companies that went after those huge deep-water fields.
But offshore drilling has done little to wean us from Middle Eastern oil. And with less than 5% of our domestic oil located offshore, more ocean drilling won’t help now either.
The only real way to quit relying on foreign oil is to wean ourselves from oil, and that’s something our leaders are unlikely to fully embrace until we’ve tapped that last reserve of sweet crude.