Gulf Spill: Drill, Baby, Drill? Clean, Baby, Clean!

| by NRDC

Talk about having your head stuck in the oil-soaked sand.  In the wake of the Gulf Coast oil spill, Sarah Palin recently reiterated her commitment to the slogan 'drill here, drill now' on her Facebook page, writing:

"All responsible energy development must be accompanied by strict oversight, but even with strict oversight in the world, accidents still happen.  No human endeavor is ever without risk -- whether it's sending a man to the moon or extracting the necessary resources to fuel our civilization."

Tell that to Johnny Nunez, a life-long commercial fisherman in Shell Beach, Louisiana.  "This oil is the one thing where there's no recovering," Nunez told the Washington Post.  "If we lose the fish and the land, there's no building back.  This whole way of life is going.  This whole generation is lost.  I'm 55 years old, and I might not fish again." 

My colleague Apollo Gonzales, who is in southern Louisiana along with other NRDC staff responding to the disaster, profiled another boat captain who explained how BP's spill threatens to destroy not just the local seafood economy but the very fabric of the Gulf Coast's way of life.

As a native Virginian who grew up surfing Virginia Beach and vacationing along North Carolina's nearby Outer Banks, I've long opposed coastal drilling along those placid shores.  When skyrocketing gas prices a couple of summers ago led to Congress lifting restrictions on drilling in protected portions of the Outer Continental Shelf, I was shocked.  Hearing the "drill, baby, drill" mantra adopted during the 2008 election infuriated me.  And when elected leaders like Virginia Gov. Bob McDonald pledged to open their state's fragile coastlines to oil and natural gas development, I was bewildered.  How could they not see the environmental and economic dangers?  I guess the lessons of Alaska's long ago Exxon-Valdez oil spill were forgotten. 

I, for one, never want to see Virginia Beach's tourism-based economy threatened by spills or converted from a natural playground into a center for petro-industrial commerce.  It appears now that BP's oil rig explosion and resulting massive spill is causing some coastal drilling advocates to wake up and smell the petroleum fuel washing up on shore along the Gulf Coast.  Gov. Crist in Florida has already flipped his position and once again opposes drilling off the Sunshine State's crystal shores.  

Although Gov. McDonald is still championing oil and gas development off Virginia's coast, other state officials are no longer as enthusiastic.  Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms, who endorsed the push to drill off his coast, now is reportedly "alarmed" by the tragedy unfolding in the Gulf, which he says is a "wake-up call."  It's interesting to note that Mayor Sessoms and his fellow city council members passed a resolution supporting coastal drilling because they thought it would actually help tourism by keeping the cost of gas down.  But as the Washington Post reports, a study of the Atlantic Ocean by the federal government estimated that the amount oil off Virginia's shores is equal to the amount of oil used in six days and the amount of natural gas would last less than a month.

Why would we as a nation jeopardize our natural heritage and coastal economies for so little energy?  In Louisiana alone, the BP spill threatens the state's annual $2 billion seafood industry, as well as its $1 billion per year recreational fishing revenues.  And the oil slick is not likely to be cleaned up for years -- possibly shutting down these resources for a generation, as feared by fishermen like Johnny Nunez.

Yet some people refuse to heed the heart-wrenching lessons of the massive disaster unfolding before our eyes.  Nor do they recognize the role of high-carbon fossil fuels in our even more pressing climate crisis.  In her Facebook post, for example, Palin added: "I continue to believe in it because increased domestic oil production will make us more secure, prosperous, and peaceful nation."

This is no time for rhetoric that defies reality.  The Gulf Coast catastrophe is a wake-up call that America needs to break our oil addiction and move beyond dirty energy.  We must do this by adopting policies that will usher in a new era of clean, renewable energy.  That is truly the only way to enhance our national security by reducing our dependence on oil, to ensure economic prosperity by spurring technological innovations that will create jobs, and to address the greatest environmental threat our planet has ever faced.