‘President Obama isn’t connecting the dots when it comes to oil’

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Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, has an article on the Huffington Post this week that seems to ask the important environmental question of the moment: What, exactly, does President Obama and his administration think it’s doing when it comes to fossil fuels? (He also wonders, interestingly, if the president is cursed when it comes to oil and gas, since every time his administration moves to expand offshore drilling, we see another major oil spill.)

What concerns Brune, the Sierra Club, and other environmentalists the most is the recent, preliminary decision by the Obama administration to allow Shell to once again attempt offshore drilling in the Arctic. This despite a nearly disastrous attempt by the oil company two summers ago, which ended with Shell’s battered rig running aground along the rugged Alaska coastline. Brune notes that despite the difficulties in responding to the 2010 BP oil spill in the warm and relatively placid waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the feds have now authorized drilling in a brutal region that where the nearest responding Coast Guard station would be 1,000 miles away!

Then he addresses the crux of the issue:

President Obama’s own Department of the Interior has already predicted that, if Shell is allowed to proceed with drilling, the likelihood of a large spill is 75 percent. So who’s going to clean it up — and with what completely unproven technology? Even the American Petroleum Institute admits to “logistical challenges” for dealing with an Arctic oil spill. That’s putting it mildly. The industry cites the region as having some of the most dangerous seas in the world. The Gulf of Mexico is practically a mill pond in comparison, yet as much as three-quarters of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster was never recovered. Ten million gallons of toxic oil remain on the seafloor, and it could be decades before we know the full extent of the damage.

President Obama isn’t connecting the dots when it comes to oil, and it’s threatening his promise to leave office with a strong legacy on climate action and clean energy. Scientists have warned us that three-quarters of all fossil fuels must stay in the ground if we want to prevent runaway climate disruption. Why explore for more oil — in the Arctic of all places — when we can’t burn most of the oil that’s already been identified?

One of the first things you learn in Econ 101 is the importance of supply and demand. President Obama and his administration deserve credit for major accomplishments when it comes to decreasing demand for dirty fossil fuels, whether it’s forcing utilities to clean up polluting power plants or establishing stronger fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks. Bizarrely, though, the president is simultaneously making decisions that could lock in vast quantities of dirty fuels on the supply side for decades to come. An expansion of drilling in the Arctic, which could hold up to 20 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas resources, is exactly such a decision.

The basic point is this: President Obama’s so-called “all of the above” energy policy, which does emphasize alternative energy sources such as wind and solar but which also looks to expand U.S. fossil fuel production, is not the change that America needs right now. It may be slightly better than the “drill, baby, drill” policies of most of the Republicans now seeking to replace the president in 2017. But the reality of climate change — not to mention the very real threat of these periodic and catastrophic oil spills — should be a sign for the president that our policy toward fossil fuels can’t be so inclusive. Rather than “all of the above,” America needs to make some hard choices.

Read the entire Michael Brune op-ed from the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-brune/obama-and-oil_b_7488800.html

Read more about the issues raised by America’s addiction to oil in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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