It’s time to change up the same ol’ drill

Growing up in La Jolla, San Diego, my childhood revolved around the ocean. Spending a relaxing day on the beach was just steps outside my front door, and weekend beach cleanups were the norm for my family. The main culprit of ocean pollution during these cleanups was plastic; although this material endangered the sea animals, the plastic itself was easily extracted from the water by our cleanup crew.

But a few years ago, during a beach cleanup at Stinson, two volunteers working alongside me uncovered a baby heron smothered in crude oil. The bird’s delicate feathers were drenched with petroleum, and its mouth was dusted a deep black from the slick oil. Unlike the plastic, this oil couldn’t be extracted—it was entrenched in the bird’s skin, a permanent reminder of the environmental ramifications caused by a single gallon of oil. This bird was one of thousands of helpless victims poisoned by the continuing California oil spills of the past decade.

Illustration by Lauren Smart

How did we let this happen? How could our government pass laws allowing our beloved coastal cities to be guinea pigs in an ongoing, failing experiment of coastal drilling exploration? After 250,000 oil spills around the nation over the course of three decades and 1.3 million gallons of oil spilled into the ocean each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one would think the government would terminate all offshore oil drilling. Instead, our government is doing the opposite.  

On Jan. 4, the Trump administration proposed a five-year plan to open California shores for exploration, committing 90 percent of the nation’s offshore reserves to leasing. For nearly 50 years, no administration has suggested further drilling in California, in the hopes that the ban on offshore drilling would protect our shores and encourage alternative measures of energy production. But apparently, filling the pockets of businessmen in the fossil fuel industry is more important to our current administration than protecting our environment, furthering the irreversible climate damage already underway.

Congress has chosen to neglect the utter devastation of past offshore oil spills to wildlife and to the $214 billion fishing, recreation and tourism industries that are imperative to California’s economy, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They’ve chosen to ignore the science that tells us our climate is changing and we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. According to the National Wildlife Federation (AWF), petroleum oil is responsible for 20 percent of our climate change pollution. Following through with President Trump’s plan is a leap backward in the fight for alternative energy sources and the protection of our coastline.

Adapting to the increased use of renewable energy sources is pivotal to ensure progress in combating climate change. Oil spills require more than just a volunteer group to clean up its remains. The 189,000 gallon fuel spill into Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts left crabs on the ocean shores moving erratically and reacting slowly, displaying the ongoing ramifications from the oil spill nearly 50 years ago. The aftermath of oil spills doesn’t just disappear into the depths of the ocean floor; even one gallon spilled from oil, according to the New York Times, can impact the surrounding wildlife for up to a century.

President Trump’s administration claims offshore drilling could be key to reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil and petroleum products. By harvesting the deposits of oil that lie on the coast, offshore drilling could keep the cost of oil down, signifying reduced gas prices for Americans. In addition, opponents argue that opening the Atlantic, the Pacific and off-limits areas in the Gulf of Mexico for offshore development could create nearly 840,000 new American jobs, expanding the domestic energy industry, according to studies from Quest Offshore Resources. Although this may be true, the job opportunities in solar energy nearly triple the amount of jobs offered in coal and oil power, according to Forbes Magazine.

The Trump administration, specifically drilling advocate Ryan Zinke, argues that offshore oil drilling will save our economy, yet oil exploration has time and again proven to be a faulty method of reigning in economic benefits. After all, the 600-million-dollar oil rig involved in the BP (British Petroleum Oil and Gas Company) Gulf Spill ended up costing the company $61.6 billion after fines and cleanups, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Furthermore, alternative measures of renewable energy production should be taken into account before considering oil drilling as a first option. Methods such as wind power, solar energy, hydropower and geothermal energy production emit zero greenhouse gases, ensuring the protection of our environment.

Currently, only about 15 percent of U.S. electricity comes from these sources, but studies have repeatedly shown that renewable energy can provide a significant share of future electricity needs. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, renewable energy could comfortably provide up to 80 percent of electricity in the U.S. by 2050. For instance, installing a solar panel on one’s home could be costly at first, up to $13,000 in California, but over the course of three decades, these panels will cut one’s electricity bill in half.

Although these methods may be costly to pursue, the environmental benefactors that result from renewable energy sources will preserve the planet and our oceans in the long run. With Trump’s proposed plan, even the slightest misstep could dump millions of gallons of crude oil into our oceans, endangering our sea life and ruining our coastlines. Instead of looking out onto an expanse of crystal blue on the drive to Stinson, we’d be looking out onto a black shoreline smothered with toxic chemicals, the perfect embodiment of a government mistake.

Luckily, according to the Los Angeles Times, state regulators and simple economics could prevent Trump’s plan in passing through Congress. A massive mobilization by coastal communities around the country in opposition to new offshore oil drilling is vital in protecting our oceans and our voices from being drowned out by powerful oil industry monopolizers.

We have yet to embrace the lessons of the BP Gulf Spill, the worst oil spill in our planet’s history. Congress has yet to pass legislation to protect our waters and wildlife from the dangers of offshore drilling, the same government that promised to avert environmental catastrophe while it continues to unfold under our noses. Oil drilling should only be a possibility if and when all other environmentally friendly ways of seeking energy have been exhausted. Someday, it will be too late to pursue these methods. It is only a matter of time until the oil reserves run dry, leaving our nation with minimal progress in other fields of renewable resources.

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