With 100 miles of dark, slick oil covering its surface, the Mississippi River winds its way towards the Gulf of Mexico, leaving citizens across the nation once again reminded of the many reasons why we must move beyond our dependence on oil. As a 600 ft. tanker crashed into a barge spilling almost a half million gallons of diesel fuel oil into the river on Wednesday, Hurricane Dolly approaches Texas and prevents Senator John McCain from visiting a “clean” oil rig off the coast of New Orleans. All too familiar with the costs of natural and human disasters along the Gulf Coast, such snapshot events speak loudly to the offshore drilling debate.
Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director of the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), explains, “The costs of opening up new areas for drilling along the Gulf vastly outweigh the benefits. Gas prices will be virtually unaffected, but future spills, wetlands destruction and increased pollution are guaranteed.”
Ultimately, increased drilling means more oil spills. The Mineral Management service predicts one spill of at least 42,000 gallons a year in the Gulf with at least 420,000 gallons expected to be spilled every four years. While the oil industry is justifiably proud of increased safety in drilling procedures, there is still great risk in transporting that oil from sea to land. These incidences not only create economic crises for small businesses and cause property damage, but they also make humans and wildlife more vulnerable to toxic fumes, contaminated drinking water, and serious illness in the short and long-term.
A recent report from the Journal of the Human Environment explained that the storm protection value of America’s coastal wetlands are $23.2 billion annually—Louisiana is currently losing a football field of this valuable protection every 45 minutes due to coastal erosion caused in part by the oil & gas industry. By committing to expanded oil and gas development these ‘horizontal levees’ are jeopardized in the short run by pipelines and offshore oil field support infrastructure, and in the long term by the global warming fueled sea level rise a continued reliance on oil will cause.
“The supply of oil off the coast is peanuts compared to world demand for oil, and any benefit at the pump pales in comparison to the costs of drilling, such as decreasing tourism and Hurricane protection, and the loss of the natural beauty of Florida beaches. In addition, new drilling means new pipelines, oil barges, storage facilities, refineries, and the pollution and public health threat they inevitably bring,” said Joseph Murphy, the Florida Program Coordinator for GRN.