Early Tuesday morning, 18000 gallons of oil spilled from a Chevron-operated pipeline into a sensitive wildlife refuge on the coast of Louisiana. The oil has so far spread to an area of about 160 square miles, covering wetlands of the Delta National Wildlife Refuge, and the Gulf of Mexico. The refuge is the wintering home to hundreds of thousands of migratory birds as well as many other critters, including already threatened species such as the America alligator and the brown pelican.
The area of the spill is so remote that cleanup crews were not immediately able to get to it. Currently, local and state officials and crews from the oil company are on the scene driving the cleanup efforts. Updates on wildlife harmed by the oil are not yet in. Given the size and location of the spill, injured wildlife may not have been found or reported yet.
This spill is just one of many in recent memory. In January, an oil tanker headed for an Exxon Mobil refinery in Beaumont, TX spilled 462,000 gallons into the Gulf of Mexico after it collided with a tugboat. Last year off the Australian coast, millions of gallons gushed out of a deep water drilling rig after an explosion in an underwater pipe. That rig was state of the art, just two years old. The oil, which continued leaking for weeks, was said to have spread across more than 9000 square miles. And there are hundreds of other examples of recent spills.
Comparatively, this week’s spill off the Louisiana coast seems almost small. But with all that’s at stake, even a little bit of oil can do tremendous harm. That’s one reason why Environment America opposes President Obama’s recent announcement of plans to expand oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Southeastern Atlantic, and in Northern Alaska. Despite claims by drilling supporters about the safety of modern drilling equipment and oil transportation techniques, there are no perfectly safe methods. Spills will continue to happen as long as we drill for oil.
And spills, of course, will continue to have disastrous impacts on wildlife, the tourism industry and our beaches. Though it’s difficult to estimate the true cost of an oil spill, a 2009 report by Environment America showed the economic value of sustainable ocean activities nationwide to be about $197 billion, compared to $164 billion for the value of nonrenewable oil and gas extraction. Even if your primary concern is the bottom line, the financial benefits alone of a clean offshore environment are worth supporting over the expansion of drilling.
We also oppose new drilling off our coasts because we just don’t need to do it. At best, new offshore drilling would meet only a tiny fraction of our current oil usage. In addition and more importantly, we have real options to reduce our dependence significantly, through using cleaner cars and increasing funding for public transportation. Recently announced increases in the national fuel economy standards will reduce gasoline consumption by as much as 11.6 billion gallons per year in 2016.
With irrefutable evidence of the dangers of oil drilling on the environment, plus the impact these threats have on coastal communities and the abundance and accessibility of cleaner and safer alternatives, it’s clear we should be moving away from using more oil and toward a cleaner, safer and more efficient future. Spills like the one this week in the Louisiana wildlife refuge are just the most recent reminder that we must do more to save our shores.