The real costs of expanding offshore drilling


Environmentalists certainly won a big battle when the Obama administration reversed course earlier this year and nixed a proposal to allow offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. That flawed plan that would have risked tourism, fishing and other vital activities up and down the Eastern Seaboard. But it wasn’t the same thing as winning the war on fossil fuels. For all the progress that it has made on some key environmental issues, the current administration in Washington continues to pursue its so-called “all of the above” energy strategy. That means continuing to expand risky exploration for fossil fuels, even as President Obama insists (rightly) that climate change from greenhouse gas pollution is the planet’s top challenge.

The Interior Department plan that thankfully spared the Atlantic region does still call for offshore drilling leases in 13 new areas, including 10 in the Gulf of Mexico, which of course continues to struggle to get past the ill effects of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe some six years ago. The plan also includes three new sites off Alaska — despite the fact that an attempt by Shell to conduct offshore oil exploration in the Arctic a couple of years ago was an unmitigated disaster. The risks of another costly oil spill and extensive cleanup alonbe should make these new leases a non-starter, but the environmental group Greenpeace USA is also noting that the climate change impact — from a financial perspective — far outweighs what the U.S. Treasury would collect:

The Obama administration’s proposed expansion of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico would result in hefty climate-related social costs, a new report found. In fact, those costs, estimated at $58.6 billion to $179.2 billion, may outweigh the economic benefits of selling the energy, according to Tim Donaghy, lead author of the report.

The critical point made by the report’s authors is that the indirect costs from global warming are too often taken for granted. That should no longer be the case:

With emissions from existing oil reserves already capable of pushing the planet beyond the 2 degrees Celsius threshold climatologists say would result in drastic impacts, searching of more oil would be a step backward, Donaghy, a senior research specialist at Greenpeace USA, told The Huffington Post.

“Climate change isn’t just this abstract thing,” Donaghy said. “It’s going to actually affect our daily lives.”

The 16-page report, released Thursday by Greenpeace USA and Oil Change International, finds that consumption of the oil produced under the five-year program would increase global carbon emissions by roughly 850 million metric tons of CO2 — equivalent to that of 3.6 million cars over a 50-year period. “These carbon emissions will impose high costs to society in coming decades related to human health, flood damages, agricultural productivity and other impacts,” the report says.

In addition to quantifying the environmental and social costs of burning the oil, which Donaghy said are likely “underestimated,” the report calls on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which regulates offshore oil and gas development, to include climate-related costs in its environmental assessment of the program.

I think that the bigger point here is that the next administration (probably to be led by Hillary Clinton the way things are going, although in politics you really never know) needs to drastically re-think U.S. energy policy. The Obama administration policies of the last eight years have certainly been successful from a lowering-prices-at-the-pump perspective. But it’s been a mixed bag, at best, when it comes to reducing our addiction to fossil fuels. Many European counties have put America to shame when it comes to ditching oil or coal or natural gas for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. More offshore oil leasing in the Gulf isn’t just reckless. It’s completely unnecessary.

Read more about the Greenpeace USA report from the Huffington Post:

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 America

© 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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