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Loosening offshore drilling rules is a risky proposal

The Trump administration is proposing a bill to roll back restrictions on oil drilling in offshore waters along its coast. That includes the Arctic, where a spill could be devastating, Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald warns.

Arctic oil spill could cause major damage due to lack of resources for cleanup

U.S. President Donald Trump signs an Energy Independence Executive Order at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Headquarters on March 28, 2017. More recently, the Trump administration proposes a bill that would roll back offshore oil drilling restrictions put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. (Getty Images)

The Trump administration is proposing a bill to roll back restrictions on oil drilling in offshore waters along its coast, including the Arctic.This wipes out regulations that were put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The bill threatens coastal ecosystems, including those in Canada.

In a further attempt to make America self sufficient in energy, the Accessing Strategic Resources Offshore Act, also known as the ASTRO Act, gives the oil industry a green light to exploit offshore resources without public input or traditional environmental review. The bill would rescind drilling moratoriums put in place by the Obama Administration, making it easier for oil companies to erect drilling platforms more quickly and easily along the continental shelf off Virginia, the Carolinas, and Alaska.

A coalition of environmental groups has written a letter of protest, stating that the bill would "significantly increase risks to offshore workers, the environment and all who rely on our sustainable marine resources and clean coasts for their livelihoods, cultures, nutrition and recreation."

Dark clouds of smoke and fire emerge as oil burns during a controlled fire in the Gulf of Mexico, May 6, 2010. The U.S. Coast Guard, working with BP, local residents and other federal agencies, conducted the burn to help prevent the spread of oil following the explosion on Deepwater Horizon, an offshore drilling unit. (United States Navy)

As we have seen with the Deepwater Horizon spill, the damage to coastlines can be extensive. A spill on the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. would not only damage local beaches and estuaries, the oil could be carried north on the Gulf Stream to Canadian shores in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. How that oil would affect our fishing industry is difficult to predict.

Arctic cleanup difficult

Fears of an oil spill in the Arctic have always been high because of the lack of resources to clean it up. The remote location, plus ice cover and cold, dark arctic winters would hamper cleanup operations, possibly delaying them for months until daylight returns and ice clears. During that time, oil could accumulate under the ice, where it would remain invisible and may not be recoverable at all. The damage from a major spill to frail arctic ecosystems is a frightening thought.

This push for more domestic oil, along with more coal, by eliminating environmental considerations, is another step backwards in the U.S. approach to energy.

At a time when the cost of clean energy is dropping dramatically, and more states are pledging to go green, the idea of more fossil fuel production seems to be a move in the wrong direction. This will also result in even more greenhouse gas emissions, making it harder to combat climate change.

In this May 14, 2015, file photo, the oil drilling rig Polar Pioneer, one of two drilling rigs Royal Dutch Shell planned to outfitfor Arctic oil exploration, is shown in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

It is a strange irony is that the argument for more fossil fuel development is to strengthen the American economy, while at the same time, hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on recovery and relief efforts from storm damage just this year to Puerto Rico, Cuba, Florida and Texas. Those storms were strengthened by warmer waters and a warmer atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

At what point does the cost outweigh the benefits?