This afternoon, the House Natural Resources Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), is poised to pass a bill designed to vastly expand access to offshore drilling for oil and gas. The legislation would open up large areas of our ocean—places like the Southern Pacific, Alaska’s Bristol Bay, and large swaths of the Atlantic seaboard—to future oil and gas drilling.
This “drill now, drill everywhere” bill is exactly the wrong approach. The Department of Interior’s recently released program for offshore oil and gas leasing will already allow access to 75% of our known offshore oil and gas reserves. There’s no need to expose additional areas of the ocean to the threats posed by offshore drilling. And there’s certainly no reason to speed up Arctic permitting and drilling a time when Shell Oil has admitted that it cannot comply with its Arctic air permits, has been unable to keep its Arctic drillship at anchor without it floating away, and is backing away from its pledge that it will be able to clean up spilled oil in the Arctic (Shell now says that it will merely “encounter” the spilled oil).
It is especially disappointing to see the House Natural Resources Committee head in this direction so soon after we’ve taken important steps forward. After all, it was less than a month ago that Congress passed the RESTORE Act, which will provide a comprehensive approach to restoring the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and years of environmental degradation. And earlier this year, Californians completed their decade-long quest to establish marine protected areas from San Diego to the Oregon border. Now is not the time to give the green light to offshore drilling near these underwater parks.
Opening up huge swaths of the ocean to offshore drilling will not move us in the right direction. Future energy development must be safe, it must be environmentally responsible, and it must incorporate greater levels of renewable energy sources—investments that will pay huge dividends in the future. Of course, for that to happen, we would have to see some real leadership on these priorities. The House Natural Resources Committee could show that leadership and take meaningful action on energy issues. Or it can vote to pass the latest iteration of the “drill now, drill everywhere” bill.