Oil spills are good for the economy, oil industry says


It’s been six long years since the BP oil spill — but the outrage over what happened in April 2010 out in the Gulf feels pretty fresh. A lot of good people suffered lasting scars from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. I’m thinking about all of the maritime workers who offered to work long, hot hours cleaning up the oily gunk — only to then suffer health problems such as headaches or skin rashes that last to this day. And all of the fisherman who now come back to harbor with empty boats because so many fish stocks have never really returned to normal. Or the folks who — justifiably — worry that Louisiana’s ever-shrinking wetlands won’t be able to save New Orleans or other populated areas from the next major hurricane that strikes.

The idea that there’s anything positive, at all, about a catastrophe such the BP spill — which, we can never forget, killed 11 workers before it caused literally billions of dollars of damage to the Gulf Coast — is ludicrous. And yet, that’s exactly the argument that some industry backers are trying to advance in Vancouver, Washington, where a joint venture of oil companies is seeking approval to open what would be the largest oil-by-rail terminal in North America. The facility would send an additional 155 oil trains per week across the Pacific Northwest, greatly increasing the risk of a major accident or a spill. But backers of the plan insist that’s not necessarily bad:

“The Draft Environmental Impact Statement identifies many economic impacts arising from an accident associated with Project operations, but fails to recognize economic activity that would be generated by spill response,” Todd Schatzki, vice president of Analysis Group — a consulting group that released an economic report on the terminal commissioned by Tesoro Savage — wrote in pre-filed testimony. “When a spill occurs, new economic activity occurs to clean-up contaminated areas, remediate affected properties, and supply equipment for cleanup activities. Anecdotal evidence from recent spills suggests that such activity can be potentially large.”

Schatzki’s pre-filed testimony also includes references to both the Santa Barbara and BP oil spills’ role as job creating events. He notes that the Santa Barbara oil spill created some 700 temporary jobs to help with cleanup, while the BP spill created short term jobs for 25,000 workers. Schatzki does not mention that BP has paid individuals and businesses more than $10 billion to make up for economic losses caused by the spill. Nor does he mention that California’s Economic Forecast Director predicted that the 2015 Santa Barbara oil spill would cost the county 155 jobs and $74 million in economic activity.

For the Columbia River region, the impacts of an oil spill could be equally economically devastating — a report from the Washington Attorney General’s office found that an oil spill could cost more than $170 million in environmental damages.

Schatzki also argued that an oil spill would not necessarily have a large impact on commercial and recreational fisheries. The Columbia River, which cuts between Oregon and Washington and borders much of the oil-train route, is one of the most important fisheries for both states. In 2015, the total economic value of Columbia River salmon was $15.5 million, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Those fisheries, however, would not necessarily be impacted by an oil spill, Schatzki argued, because fishermen would simply avoid the areas where the spill had taken place, moving their operations elsewhere.

These views are offensive beyond words. They completely overlook the enormous damage not just to businesses such as fishing and tourism, but more important to human, animal and plant life, that is caused by the toxic pollution of oil spills. It’s an insult to the people of Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf Coast , not to mention other communities such as California, that have actually suffered through these catastrophes. I hope that officials in Washington State will reject both this ridiculous argument and this potentially unsafe facility.

Find out more about the shocking oil industry comments on oil spills from ThinkProgress: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/07/15/3798835/oil-spills-good-for-economy-nature-vancouver/

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on Americahttp://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – 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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