Clean coast economy worth far more than dirty and dangerous offshore drilling

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BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill

The Department of the Interior recently proposed expanding offshore drilling for oil and gas in nearly all U.S. federal waters. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke claims he wants to promote jobs and economic growth. It’s a familiar line, if you’ve ever listened to oil industry talking points.

For example, The Washington Post last week reported that industry representatives claim energy development off South Carolina’s coast “could provide the state $2.7 billion in annual economic growth, 35,000 jobs and potentially lower costs for residents struggling to pay their heating bills.”

{mosads}You know what makes it difficult for a South Carolina fisherman to pay his heating bills? An oil spill anywhere near the East Coast that kills fish and keeps his boat at the dock. With his boat not on the water, he’s less likely to splurge on an evening out, so that also hurts the restaurants and bars in his town. Add to that all the annual visitors who would rather stay home than visit an oil-coated beach. An oil spill threatens every job that depends on a clean ocean. That’s a lot of jobs.


In Oceana’s analysis out this week, our economists used government data to determine the value of ocean-dependent industries to our economy and were able to demonstrate just what’s at risk if we move forward to expand dirty and dangerous offshore drilling. This state-by-state study paints a picture of healthy businesses and jobs in the fishing, tourism and recreation sectors — the very fabric of the coastal economy and way of life. These are livelihoods and economic engines that can thrive and endure for generation upon generation. Oil is a finite resource — it won’t last forever. But the impacts of introducing new offshore drilling operations and related heavy infrastructure required to pull it out of the ocean floor would be permanent. 

In South Carolina, for example, we calculate offshore drilling threatens more than 86,000 jobs and roughly $5.1 billion in state GDP. Along the Atlantic, Pacific and Florida’s Gulf coast, 2.6 million jobs and nearly $180 billion in GDP are at risk by our estimates. These are jobs and dollars that depend on clean water and beaches, healthy ecosystems and the millions of inland residents who head to the ocean every year.

We saw what happened when the BP Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and poured hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Even beaches in Florida that were not directly tainted by spilled oil saw depressed tourism and hotel cancellations, simply due to the perception that a visit to the beach might now mean seeing tar balls or oil-coated animals instead of white sand and blue water. This single disaster cost coastal economies billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs.

Along the coast, every fisherman, restaurant worker, boat captain, cook, taxi driver — anyone, really, who relies on tourism dollars knows how important a clean coast is to their economy and their way of life. And the numbers support this.

The growing list of those who oppose the proposed plan to expand offshore drilling include most coastal governors in the proposed leasing plan, more than 200 coastal municipalities, over 1,200 local, state and federal bipartisan officials, business groups representing tens of thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of fishing families.

That opposition is loud, growing and demands to be heard in Washington. But are coastal residents and businesses being listened to? The verdict is still out. Zinke has said that local voices matter. If that is true, he must fully reverse course on this rash and ill-informed proposal to expand offshore drilling.

A look into what the industry is after demonstrates how shortsighted this proposal truly is. The plan jeopardizes nearly $180 billion in GDP and 2.6 million jobs that depend on a clean coastal economy for what amounts to only two years worth of oil at current consumption levels. It’s not worth it.

The oil industry says offshore drilling will boost state economies. The numbers say otherwise.

Zinke says coastal voices matter. The offshore drilling proposal says otherwise.

Whatever happens, there’s one thing Interior and this administration can count on: Coastal residents, businesses and those who have the most to lose will not go away. Decisions being made in Washington about their way of life, their communities, their coastal resources and their livelihoods would have very real consequences. They don’t need these numbers to know what’s at stake. But now they can bring this analysis to their representatives and show them the math — offshore drilling versus clean beaches is a bad deal that just doesn’t add up.

Diane Hoskins is the campaign director at Oceana, an international ocean advocacy organization established in 2001 by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Oak Foundation, Marisla Foundation (formerly Homeland Foundation), and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

Tags clean oceans clean water Conservation Deepwater Horizon oil spill Diane Hoskins Energy Fishing Interior Department Oceana Offshore drilling oil drilling oil industry oil spill Petroleum industry Petroleum production Pollution Ryan Zinke Tourism wildlife

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