By Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana’s Chief Policy Officer
I had been looking forward to Saturday. A few months ago, I fully expected that on May 16, I would be standing on the beach joining hands with my neighbors to stop the expansion of offshore drilling.
Hands Across the Sand is an annual event in cities across the country, with thousands of people coming out to draw a line in the sand against the expansion of offshore drilling and all the dangers that come with it.
While we cannot be together in person this year, the threat remains. President Donald Trump is not letting the pandemic or economic crisis get in the way of his plans to expand offshore drilling. He has proposed to bring this dirty and dangerous practice to nearly all U.S. coasts. And despite much of the economy shutting down during this pandemic, work on the drilling plan continues.
So, not only do communities and small businesses along the coast have to deal with the financial strain of a shuttered tourism economy, they will also face the many threats that offshore drilling brings.
Drilling brings industrialization of the coasts with pipelines, transport facilities, shipping canals, waste dumps and sometimes even refineries and other industrial plants. All of this is unsettling, but the worst part is that offshore drilling brings oil spills.
Just last month Oceana released a report revealing that the lessons we should have learned from the BP Deepwater Horizon have been ignored — the likelihood of another catastrophic spill is just as likely today as it was 10 years ago when the rig exploded, spewing billions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
During the three-month period of the spill when the Deepwater Horizon was out of control, we all saw the videos of oil gushing unabated into our oceans. We saw the oiled birds, sea turtles, dolphins, as well as the responders exposed to oil in their heroic efforts to contain and clean the spill.
In that moment, it was obvious that offshore drilling was not safe and we should be scaling it back. But the memories of policymakers are short and soon we were back to drilling and proposals to expand it were not far behind.
President Trump and his friends in the oil industry plan to bring these dangers not only to the Gulf but also to more of our beaches – this time in the Atlantic and Pacific. They plan to drill off the shores of hundreds of coastal towns that rely on tourism and fishing to support their economies.
Before the pandemic, recreation, tourism and fishing industries along the east, west and Florida Gulf coasts supported more than 2.6 million jobs and brought in roughly $180 billion in GDP. Offshore drilling threatens all of that. Today, these communities need relief and support, not another existential threat.
On this day when we would normally use physical contact to symbolize our solidarity against harm to our oceans, we cannot be together, but that doesn’t change our resolve.
Tomorrow, thousands of people across the country are virtually demonstrating their opposition to drilling. To these communities, the need for clean coasts and healthy oceans is more real than ever before. Seeing and feeling what happens when the tourists stay away drives home the fact that offshore drilling is incompatible with coastal economies.
At the same time, this pandemic is showing us that we can come together to solve problems. Millions of us are staying home to keep our communities and others safe. This is not easy, but it is an act of solidarity with the rest of the human race. We stay home to keep others safe until we make it through to the other side of this pandemic. So too, must we come together to draw a line in the sand against offshore drilling.
While we may be socially distant from friends, we can still come together and send a clear message that President Trump must announce an end to his quest for expanded drilling. Let’s take these steps to get closer to the clean energy future we need, to promote alternatives to oil and gas — like solar and wind — that will last forever so our coastal economies can too.
Jacqueline Savitz is Chief Policy Officer at Oceana, the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Learn more at usa.oceana.org.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.