Gulf spill side effect: Amnesia

The politics around offshore drilling have taken a turn for the crazy.  Last month, while the rest of the country was marking the one-year memorial of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, members of the House of Representatives apparently decided that the spill never happened in the first place.  Led by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) they wrote three bills that would drastically expand offshore drilling while removing basic environmental protections and limiting oversight of oil development.

Coming soon to a coastline near you? (photo: flickr/hunting.glee)

Now, it’s one thing to support offshore drilling, but the Hastings bills are something else entirely: they would actually weaken the rules that were in place a year ago, before the BP rig sank and spewed 2oo million gallons of crude oil into the ocean. And keep in mind that Congress still hasn’t passed a single bill addressing oil spills, worker safety or Gulf restoration.

The House of Representatives just approved the first of the three today, opening new areas including offshore Virginia to drilling.  The bill also forces regulators to rely on outdated, pre-BP spill Environmental Impact Statements, the government’s tool for deciding where it’s safe to drill and what steps we should take to prevent disasters.  They’ll be voting on a second bill next week that limits the regulators’ ability to review drilling permits; the third bill would open up virtually the entire US coast to oil development.

Essentially what this says is, “All the lessons we’ve learned since the spill?  Just ignore them.”

The bills’ supporters, to nobody’s surprise, are dusting off the gas prices bogeyman.  They figure that Americans care enough about $4 gas that we’re willing to overlook everything else, but the fact is that more offshore drilling won’t affect the price at the pump: according to the nonpartisan Energy Information Agency, opening up the entire US coast to development (which is what the House bills would do) wouldn’t lower costs at all by 2020, and would only lower prices by three cents a gallon by 2030! And we’re already producing oil and gas at the highest levels in nearly a decade.  It’s hard to get much plainer proof than that–the US can’t drill its way to cheap gas.

So what are these bills really about?  It’s hard to see them as anything except a giveaway to Big Oil companies (who, in case you didn’t notice, are doing just fine) and a political reaction to the White House’s post-spill drilling reforms.  And what’s really scary is that the offshore drilling agency is already short on resources and can’t possibly keep pace with the new paperwork and oversight responsibilities the bills would create…talk about kicking someone when they’re down.

Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, put it more bluntly:

“I don’t have amnesia, and neither does the president.  And much of the legislation that I have seen being bandied around, especially with the House Republicans, is almost as if the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well incident never happened.”

Today’s vote, though, showed that amnesia is a bipartisan problem: 33 Democrats joined 231 Republicans on the wrong side of this issue.

NWF sent a letter to Congress opposing the bills, and we’ll continue to fight these and other irresponsible policies that endanger wildlife, coastal communities, and the natural resources we all rely upon.  To read more about our work to restore the Gulf and prevent another disaster, visit


NWF letter – Hastings bills