Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Protecting the Pacific Northwest Offshore Ocean for This and Future Generations

Protections of the Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge and Cape Meares State Park, in Oregon's Tillamook County, are not enough to stop an oil spill. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Protections of the Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge and Cape Meares State Park, in Oregon's Tillamook County, are not enough to stop an oil spill. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

There might be far more or far less oil and gas offshore Oregon and Washington than the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has estimated (see last weeks Public Lands Blog post). In any case, we really cannot afford to find out, as the only prudent course is to Keep It in the Ground and out of the atmosphere. This means all fossil fuels, offshore and onshore.

Besides the climate implications of exploiting that oil and gas, there are considerations having to do with the potentially disastrous consequences of oil spills.

Though protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the law won't protect marine mammals from an oil spill. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Though protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the law won't protect marine mammals from an oil spill. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

If there is any exploitable oil and gas offshore Oregon and Washington, it is very close to the coast. This means any oil spill would immediately be just off the coast. The seas offshore Oregon and Washington are never placid. The current would quickly carry any spilled oil to shore. While Prince William Sound is recovering from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, the spill has had lasting effects to this day. The infamous and disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 was in the relatively calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Mitigating the environmental impact of mineral development in the rough seas and unpredictable weather off the Oregon coast is impossible. Even using the best available practices, offshore oil and gas exploitation involves routine discharges of “produced waters” into marine environments that include toxic compounds such as cadmium, lead, mercury, zinc, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and sometimes radium. And if an oil spill occurs, all bets are off. No cleanup technology is effective for the high seas that can also contend with the weather conditions typically found off the Oregon coast.

And now the Trump administration is proposing to eliminate or revise the drilling rig safety rules put in place after the Deepwater Horizon spill (again an Obama thing), saying the regulations are expensive. The Interior Department’s so-called Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) projects that the fossil fuel industry would save ~$288 million over ten years for all operating platforms. Let me do the math for the BSEE, as it apparently hasn’t: ~$29 million a year spread over the ninety-five drilling rigs in the US Gulf of Mexico would amount to ~$305,000 per rig per year—a mere rounding error when operating such a monstrosity. The Deepwater Horizon spill, due to the failure of one drilling rig, was quantified in 2016 as costing BP (formerly known as British Petroleum) $65 billion, and BP is still getting off easy.

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area in Douglas County, Oregon would soak up a lot of oil during a spill. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area in Douglas County, Oregon would soak up a lot of oil during a spill. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Protecting the Coast

Abstaining from mineral development offshore is the only way to protect the marine environment and the renewable resources that depend upon it.

An annually renewed congressional moratorium on federal oil and gas exploitation offshore Oregon and Washington (and many other planning areas) was in effect between 1982 and 2009. In 2009, Congress stopped renewing the rider to an annual appropriations bill, but it wasn’t a big deal because climateman Barack Obama, not oilpimp Donald Trump, was president.

The pending West Coast Ocean Protection Act (S.31 and H.R.169, 117th Congress) would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act by adding this paragraph:

 (q) Prohibition Of Oil And Gas Leasing In Certain Areas Of The Outer Continental Shelf.—Notwithstanding any other provision of this section or any other law, the Secretary of the Interior shall not issue a lease for the exploration, development, or production of oil or natural gas in any area of the outer Continental Shelf off the coast of the State of California, Oregon, or Washington.

All but a very few islands offshore Oregon are part of the Oregon Islands Wilderness and Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, including these near Ecola Beach State Park. Such protections won't stop and oil spill. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

All but a very few islands offshore Oregon are part of the Oregon Islands Wilderness and Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, including these near Ecola Beach State Park. Such protections won't stop and oil spill. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

All West Coast US senators—Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA)—are sponsoring the Senate bill. The identical House version, sponsored by Representative Jared Huffman (D-2nd-CA), has thirty-seven cosponsors, including Representative Peter DeFazio (D-4th-OR), Earl Blumenauer (D-3rd-OR), Kurt Schrader (D-5th-OR), and Suzanne Bonamici (D-1st-OR). Notably absent is Representative Greg Walden (R-2nd-OR), but I’m sure it is only because his congressional district has no Pacific coastline; not!

An oil spill will not improve Haystack Rock near Cannon Beach in Clatsop County, Oregon. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

An oil spill will not improve Haystack Rock near Cannon Beach in Clatsop County, Oregon. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

If the Democrats take control of either house of Congress in the 2018 election, the sponsors should push their bill hard in the 118th Congress (2019–2020). Despoiling our ocean and shores should become an election issue.

Tidepools, such as this one at Whaleshead Beach in Curry County, Oregon, and oil don't mix. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Tidepools, such as this one at Whaleshead Beach in Curry County, Oregon, and oil don't mix. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

A permanent (as permanent as things get with Congress, which can always change its “mind”) ban on oil and gas exploitation offshore Oregon, Washington, and California would be a very good thing. Even better would be to expand existing and establish new national marine sanctuaries off the Pacific Coast or establish marine national monuments, either by presidential or congressional action.

Just say no. Source: Wikipedia.

Just say no. Source: Wikipedia.