Can He Take the Heat? Oil Industry Bullies Obama on Job Creation


In his speech tonight, President Obama will call for job creation, investment in our country’s decaying infrastructure and an extension of jobless benefits. The plan could cost upwards of $300 billion, and a Republican-controlled House of Representatives would have to approve many of the ideas the president presents. The stakes couldn’t be any higher for Obama as we hurl headlong into the official campaign season – a rough-and-tumble period when political fortunes are either secured or upended. With his disapproval rating at an all-time high and unemployment hovering north of 9 percent, President Obama is now susceptible to even the most abject ploys for generating jobs.

Enter Big Oil. The richest, most influential industry on the planet doesn’t miss an opportunity like this to elbow its way to the trough. From a Sept. 7 CNN report:

With job creation taking center stage in American politics, the oil industry Wednesday made a pitch for drilling more widely. With looser restrictions, the industry says it could deliver 1.4 million new jobs, boost tax rolls by $800 billion, and increase domestic energy production almost 50%.

To hit those numbers, the industry would need to drill off the East and West Coasts, in waters off Florida’s Gulf Coast, in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and on most federal public land that’s not a national park. These areas are currently off limits to drilling, except for some public land in these regions.

More drilling? Looser restrictions? If they got any looser, they’d disappear. And this very public strong-arm tactic comes just a year after egregious lapses in safety protocol led to the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. So 200 million gallons of oil later, we’re getting this shameless ploy from an industry emboldened by its ability to generate jobs – however ill-advised – during a time when our country is stricken with near double-digit unemployment. To add fuel to the fire (so to speak), GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann called on Obama to act on Big Oil’s offer during last night’s debate.

But leveler heads know that America can’t afford to create jobs that endanger our long-term well being – both environmentally and economically. The jobs Big Oil is trying to jam down Obama’s throat would do just that.

We’re simply not prepared, in terms of effective oil spill response, to open more of our waters to drilling. Let’s take the pristine Alaskan arctic, the location that gives me the most concern. A July 28, 2011 UPI article carries the headline “USCG not ready for arctic oil spill,” and leads with this:

The U.S. Coast Guard needs to assess its abilities in arctic waters despite energy sector confidence about its ability to respond to a spill, an official said.

The phrase “needs to assess its abilities” translates to “if there’s a spill in the arctic, we’re totally screwed.” And let’s not forget that BP was confident about its ability to effectively respond to a spill in the Gulf (before it couldn’t), so please forgive me if I scoff (loudly) at the industry’s “confidence” in its ability to handle a spill in the much more logistically challenging arctic waters.

Consider this from Dennis Takahashi-Kelso, Alaska’s Commissioner of Environmental Conservation at the time of the Exxon Valdez spill and former chair of the Alaska Emergency Response Commission (writing for Huffington Post, Aug. 25, 2011):

Shell’s undersea pipeline began leaking two weeks ago, and since then, nearly 55,000 gallons of oil have been released into surrounding waters. It’s a stark reminder that oil spills will happen, and companies must be prepared to respond effectively when they do.

Shell’s oil spill in the North Sea underscores an important question about drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean: Are we really ready to expose our Arctic waters to the threat of a major oil spill? The icy waters north of Alaska are home to polar bears, walruses and whales; it’s a fragile environment, and our understanding of this unique marine ecosystem is not well developed.

The Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was devastating to the Gulf environment and economy – and the response efforts to that spill took months in generally favorable weather. The harsh conditions and remoteness of the Arctic present challenges that typical spill-response methods don’t address.

And this from an Aug. 16 Washington Post article entitled “Pondering the impact of drilling off remote northwest Alaska”:

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft said recently that dispersants wouldn’t work in icy water, that the Arctic doesn’t have the same oil-chomping microbes the gulf has and that the nearest Coast Guard response vessel is 1,200 miles away.

Enough said.

As far as Obama’s speech goes, I sincerely hope he looks to create jobs in areas that move America in the right direction – alternative energy, technology and infrastructure to mention a few. I also hope the president has the political backbone to dismiss special interest pressure to place “a moratorium on certain types of regulations.” Inside-the-Beltway buzz says the president won’t succumb. We shall see.

The bottom line is despite the “deal with the devil” Big Oil is dangling before the president and the country, America simply can’t afford “more drilling” and “looser restrictions.” That’s a recipe for disaster that will undoubtedly come back to bite us in our collective behind.

Read the CNN report on Big Oil’s jobs ploy here:

Read the UPI article “USCG not ready for arctic oil spill” here:

Read the full HuffPo piece on how completely unprepared we are to handle an arctic spill:

Read the Washington Post report here:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

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