The real risk of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico

There is a very clear line in U.S. climate history: before Katrina and after Katrina. As commander of U.S. relief efforts for areas affected by the hurricane, I saw first hand the tens of thousands of desperate climate survivors hunkered down in the Superdome. Hurricane Katrina laid bare, for the whole world to see, the impacts of extreme weather. And who is really paying the price for our disastrous policies on offshore drilling. 

Since the late 1800’s, the Gulf of Mexico has been viewed as a spigot for an endless supply of oil for the nation. For more than a hundred years, the waters off Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, have been sold off to oil companies on the cheap. Now the government is moving forward to auction off 43 million more acres for new wells in the Gulf. The auction ironically is taking place in the New Orleans Superdome — the site of the post-Katrina shelter and backdrop to some of the most shameful images of needless suffering in this nation’s history. Meanwhile, it’s becoming crystal clear that drilling in the deep waters of the Gulf is not only unnecessary, it’s plain foolhardy. 

{mosads}On April 20, 2010, a nasty concoction of negligence and greed erupted when the British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing 11 of our Gulf people and spewing over 200 million gallons of oil into our beloved Gulf. The companies involved, British Petroleum and Anadarko Petroleum, didn’t know what was going on with these deep wells. Letting them police themselves, our government didn’t have the capacity or compulsion to monitor them. It still doesn’t. 

Today, the Gulf of Mexico is polluted daily by tens of thousands of abandoned oil wells. Known as “orphan” wells, these one-time hopes for black gold are left deserted by corporate profiteers. Some, like the Taylor oil well, continue to leak oil into Gulf Waters, while others sit idle, ready to rupture with the next big hurricane. State and federal regulators have yet to devise a scheme to clean up this morass, and to hold companies responsible for wells currently in use. Yet, they’re moving forward to auction off an area of ocean 1.5 times the size of the state of Louisiana when it’s clear these corporations won’t take care of what they already have.

I’ve argued that protecting the Gulf is an issue of national security. An impartial risk assessment of the offshore drilling program would reveal that exposing the Gulf to an industry that is simply unaccountable, for the sake of oil supply decades down the road, makes no logical sense. Another BP Deepwater Horizon-type disaster inflicted on the people and ecosystem of the Gulf is not worth the payoff – a bonanza one that ultimately goes into the pockets of high-level corporate executives. At a time when this nation has pledged to the rest of the world to transition to a low-carbon economy, how does locking in new fossil fuel production off our treasured coasts make sense for our future? Let the next generation do the calculus, weigh the pros and cons, and make that decision for themselves. Until then, for the sake of the Gulf waters and its peoples, let’s keep this oil and gas in the ground. 

Our Gulf waters, coasts, and people have given so much to buoy this country’s progress. It’s now time that we give back. 

And here’s a start:

First, immediately halt today’s lease sale of 43 million offshore acres for oil and gas drilling, until we have real accountability to Gulf residents and their ecosystem. As the president demonstrated with coal, he has the authority to delay these senseless auctions.

Second, call for an independent investigation on deepwater drilling’s real environmental and climate risks, the same drilling that led to the greatest environmental disaster in our nation’s history. 

Third, as the president considers the future of this program, given that the nation is secure in domestic oil and gas supplies, let’s take all new offshore drilling in public waters off the table.

The truth is, the future that we feared is here. Gulf waters are rising, oil slicks pervade its surface, while plumes billow below, and plastic debris continues to wash ashore each day along the coastline. But here is the new line. Business as usual, and outdated policies cannot move forward – even in towns dependent on the fossil fuel pipeline. For the first time in history, Gulf residents are coming together to demand a fair shake at their future unsullied by Big Oil and Gas. I am with them at the Superdome, to ensure climate survivors will never have to go there again. 

Honore commanded Joint Task Force Katrina, which coordinated military relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina-affected areas on the Gulf Coast.


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