Drilling focus of Rehm show

By Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The March 4 edition of NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show” focused on President Obama’s proposal to release new areas for offshore oil and natural gas drilling along the coastal areas in the Gulf, south and mid Atlantic states and off the north slope of Alaska.

The panel of four represented oil, economic and environmental interests, providing their various perspectives on the issue.

The major focus was on drilling for oil and gas in the south and mid-Atlantic. The case against drilling was made by Jackie Savitz of U.S. Oceans, Oceana and Michael Conathan, director of ocean policy for the Center for American Progress. They oppose drilling in the Atlantic deeming it too great a risk to the existing Atlantic coastal economy of tourism and commercial and recreational fishing. They pointed out that Florida banned drilling off its coasts for the same reasons.

Their opposition includes concerns over climate change and the need to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources.

Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Harder indicated that lawmakers and governors representing the south and mid Atlantic states favored drilling and expressed interest in securing some of the oil revenues as well as economic and employment opportunities for their states. In contrast to state level support, some 30 coastal towns have expressed opposition to drilling.

The states north of the drilling sites also expressed disapproval of the drilling as there are no economic benefits for them. They fear that oil from a major accident would be carried north via the Gulf stream damaging their fishing, ocean harvesting and tourism industries.

Savitz cited the advantages of installing offshore wind generators which would produce twice as many jobs as drilling while avoiding the risk of a job killing oil spill. Harder injected that offshore wind had its own problems citing the decade long delay in securing approval for them in Cape Cod.

Erick Milito of the American Petroleum Institute pointed out the jobs and economic benefits of securing more oil and gas. He cited the national security benefits of reducing our oil imports while lessening the political leverage held by Russia, Iran and Venezuela from their energy supplies. He feels we, too, should benefit from our Atlantic oil resources as the Canadian provinces and Cuba are doing.

Attention also focused on drilling in the Arctic. The critics pointed out the risks of a spill in the cold, dark, ice clogged offshore areas of the Arctic where the industry has no emergency response system in place. Again environmental interests opposed drilling while the oil industry representative pointed out that Russia is moving ahead with Arctic explorations.

The discussion was informative but lacked the sense of urgency regarding the need to curb our addiction to oil and reliance on fossil fuels. Why risk the long term vitality of the existing coastal economy for the temporary economic gain of consuming a limited amount of oil and natural gas? Curbing fossil fuel developments will accelerate the transition to a more sustainable energy program.

Savitz from Oceana believes an aroused public can limit the expansion of ocean drilling. Visit oceana.org for ideas on what can be done.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl can be reached via e-mail at sonia@essex1.com.

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