By Frances Bienecke
As tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico continues to unfold in painful and unpredictable ways, Americans are wondering what we can do to prevent another offshore oil disaster in the future.
I have just sent a letter to President Obama outlining NRDC’s recommendations for how we can protect marine life and coastal communities from similar spills in the Gulf or elsewhere.
The best protection we have against offshore accidents is to end our dependence on oil. We simply don’t have to jeopardize our oceans, fishing industry, tourism business, and rich coastal ecosystems in order to fuel our cars and trucks. We can pass clean energy and climate legislation--legislation that will slash our oil reliance by spurring innovation in cleaner solutions--things like more efficient cars and plug-in hybrids.
But even as we begin the shift to clean energy, America’s oil exploration policy must be thoroughly reviewed and reconsidered in light of the startling new facts on the ground.
Here are there steps the Obama Administration can take right now in order to protect marine life and coastal communities from future offshore oil disasters.
1. Impose a moratorium on all new offshore oil drilling activities. Existing plans to move ahead with offshore drilling were based on the assumption that the likelihood of a serious spill was virtually too remote to contemplate. The catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico has shattered that assumption.
America should halt new offshore leasing, exploratory drilling, and seismic exploration, including the exploratory drilling that is scheduled to begin in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in Alaska this summer. The moratorium should remain in effect until the causes of the current spill and their ramifications are fully understood.
2. Ensure rules for future drilling reflect the lessons of Deepwater Horizon. Obama administration should immediately suspend the processes for opening up new offshore areas to drilling. The processes now underway will set the ground rules for future drilling. For those ground rules to make any sense, they would have to be designed to prevent a spill like the one in the Gulf of Mexico from recurring. But no one yet knows how to do that.
Before comments are due and decisions are made on how to proceed, the American people--and the administration--should have a full understanding of the causes and impacts of the Gulf of Mexico spill. The planning process could resume when the ground rules for future drilling could reflect what is learned from the current tragedy.
3. Initiate an independent investigation. In order to fully understand the demise of the Deepwater Horizon, the ensuing spill and its ramifications, the administration must launch an independent investigation staffed by experts who do not work for the government or the oil industry. It should assess the causes of the current spill, how such spills can be avoided in the future, the adequacy of containment and clean-up measures for spills generally, and the implications of these findings for drilling in or near sensitive or ecologically important areas.
The experts should issue recommendations on how to strengthen regulations to prevent spills and to protect sensitive and ecologically important areas. They should also propose criteria to determine whether areas should be excluded from leasing. The moratorium and suspensions called for above should not be lifted before the investigation has been completed.
These three steps would help ensure that the lessons of this disaster can be used to reform drilling policy. While the situation remains fluid, it is already clear that the status quo cannot adequately protect the public. Simply continuing along based on assumptions that have now been disproven should not be an option.
Original post on NRDC Switchboard