By Karl Grossman
Drill, Baby, Spill. Oil spillage is intertwined with offshore oil drilling—as the environmental disaster now unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico tragically demonstrates.
Only strong political action prevented offshore oil rigs—and the inevitable spillage—from affecting us. That kind of action will have to come again if Congress approves the Obama administration’s plan to open the Mid-Atlantic to oil and gas drilling—despite what the world is now witnessing. The mess in the Gulf stands to be the worst spill ever from an offshore rig but, in fact, spills in offshore drilling are chronic.
I’ve mentioned in this space how, exactly 40 years ago, as a reporter for the Long Island Press, I broke the story about the oil industry seeking to drill in the Atlantic. I got a tip from a Montauk fisherman who said he had seen in the ocean east of Montauk the same kind of vessel he observed searching for oil when he was a shrimper in the Gulf of Mexico. I phoned oil companies to be told by their PR people they were not involved in searching for oil in the Atlantic. But, at day’s end, as I was leaving the office, there was a call from a PR guy from Gulf saying, yes, Gulf was involved in exploring for oil in the Atlantic—as part of a “consortium” of 32 oil companies, including the companies that all day issued denials.
I was on the story for years, visiting the first drilling rig set up in the Atlantic, off Nova Scotia, circled by a rescue boat 24-hours-a-day, and on which a Shell Canada official admitted that the booms the oil industry likes to say will contain spills “just don’t work in over five-foot seas.” That’s a big problem now in a wind-tossed Gulf.
I traveled: to Massachusetts where the Department of Interior was planning to lease 882,443 acres for drilling on the George’s Bank, one of the world’s foremost fishing grounds.
I went to the Florida Keys in whose turquoise waters Interior—then and now cheerleaders for the oil industry—would let oil companies drill.
I spent much time in New Jersey—Interior held many of its meetings involving
Mid-Atlantic leasing in Trenton. In 1976, it leased 529,446 Mid-Atlantic acres—east of New Jersey, south of Long Island—to the oil industry for $1.1 billion. There was litigation and, in 1978, in connection with that Mid-Atlantic leasing, Interior issued an environmental impact statement acknowledging: “Recovery of the affected area from a large spill will be slow, probably requiring a minimum of ten years.” For the anticipated 20-to-25 year lives of this field, it forecast four large spills of more than 1,000 barrels, 58 spills of 50 to 1,000 barrels and 3,340 spills of up to 50 barrels.
When there’s drilling, there’s spilling. Indeed, as the late Red Adair, who specialized in trying to cap oil well blow-outs, said: “You can take all the precautions in the world” and spills “still happen.”
I’ve been busy in recent days because of my experience with offshore drilling and its dangers. Pieces I wrote were featured on the Huffington Post and CounterPunch. Calls included one from Sydney, Australia for an interview on Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio. Last year there was a blow-out—similar to what happened in the Gulf—on a rig in the Timor Sea off northwest Australia. The oil slick extended for more than 100 miles; it took 10 weeks for the blow-out to be brought until control; marine life was impacted and shores blackened. Wherever there’s drilling, there’s spilling.
President Obama Friday rejected calls from environmentalists to cancel planned lease sales by Interior for drilling in the Mid-Atlantic, eastern Gulf of Mexico and off northern Alaska, but said he wanted to see new “safeguards.” The notion of new “safeguards” in a process that always results in spilled oil is a fairy tale.
The prohibition of drilling in the Mid-Atlantic—that officials from Suffolk including then County Executive John V. N. Klein, State Assembly Speaker Perry Duryea, Jr. of Montauk and our Congressional delegation were leaders in fighting for—must remain.
Besides the environmental damage it causes, the drilling itself has a huge financial price: ten times the cost of drilling for petroleum on land. It is far wiser to spend that kind of money on widely implementing the use of solar and wind power and other clean, safe, renewable energy technologies now available.