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Drilling Offshore in the Age of Hurricanes

This commentary aired September 2, 2008 on KUNM.

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There’s nothing quite like a hurricane bearing down on the world’s largest collection of oil and gas rigs to remind you just how bad an idea it is to drill offshore. Now, I know Hurricane Gustav was no Katrina or Rita, the pair that delivered the one-two punch to the Gulf in 2005, opening up 600 separate oil spills and dumping 750,000 gallons of crude oil into a fragile, coastal waterway. What’s that? You didn’t hear Katrina and Rita left behind one of the worst environmental disasters of all time? Well, a lot of news outlets reported that not a drop of oil was spilled, and Presidential candidate John McCain recently repeated this myth when he cited those two hurricanes as evidence that it’s now “safe” to drill offshore.

Even Barack Obama, in his acceptance speech last week, said that we need to do more drilling offshore. At least he called it a “stop-gap measure”, and boy, is it ever. We are already drilling fifty thousand new oil and gas wells a year in the United States, and the amount of oil and gas we produce STILL declines every year. We can’t possibly put holes in the ground fast enough to increase our domestic production of oil and gas. Every new well we drill simply offsets declining production from the other wells. Ten years ago we were offsetting those declines with about 15,000 new wells a year. Now it’s 50,000, and ten years from now, if you follow the trend, we’ll need 150,000 new wells a year. It’s like running on a treadmill...you can’t possibly win.

Perhaps the greatest reason of all for not expanding our drilling efforts in the United States is that scientists have discovered a clear link between the rate at which we un-earth carbon-based fuels and the rate at which our climate is destabilizing. Here again, there’s been a lot of confusion about this. From all the reports, you’d think climate change was caused by not having enough air in your tires, or using the wrong kind of light bulbs. But it’s not. Climate change doesn’t care how efficiently we use energy, or what we decide to do with it. The only thing that matters is how fast you dig up the buried carbon resources and release them into the atmosphere.

With this in mind, how can we say we are serious about addressing our climate problem while we push for more drilling? Instead of lamenting the fact that our domestic oil and gas reserves are depleting, shouldn’t we celebrate it? Are we finally getting a look at the end of oil, when we stop unearthing the carbon that is destabilizing our planet? I’m ecstatic!

Now, I’m fully aware of all the dire predictions about how our country would come apart if we stop buying energy from the oil, gas, coal, and nuclear companies. But seriously, if we took the two-trillion dollars we will give them this year and instead built a public infrastructure to harness and distribute renewable energy, would everyone have enough?

Isn’t it possible that the assertion that nothing else is feasible, that we have to keep handing two-trillion dollars a year to the companies that make dirty energy based on non-renewable, planet-killing fuels, is false?

To fix our climate, we need to start leaving carbon-based fuels in the ground. I say we set them aside, declaring them “protected wilderness areas”. The legislation for doing that is already in place – we do it all the time. You just say, “This area must be left untouched so that our children can have a decent future,” and your all done.

Now, if you still feel like you need more reasons to not drill offshore, check out the National Hurricane Center website. There are three reasons right on the home page, and their names are Hanna, Ike, and Josephine, and they’re headed for our shores.

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