Sun, sand, and oil polluted water... what?

December 3, 2008
By Cristal Mejia, El Cajon, CA

The earth is suffering from pollution and global warming, yet humanity continues to harm it. The oceans are being polluted, yet people around the world including Americans continue the pressure to drill for oil.
When will we realize that preventing harm to nature is more critical than a gain in energy? Offshore drilling for new oil wells must be stopped all together. Instead of benefiting our planet, it is harming the ocean and contributing to global warming.
Offshore oil production involves environmental risks such as oil spills from leaks and accidents on the platforms, pipelines, and oil tankers transporting oil from the platform to onshore facilites.
Waters off the coast of the U.S. have been protected since 1981, when Congress imposed a ban prohibiting offshore drilling on both the West and East coasts. However, there is an exception to the central and western Gulf of Mexico and part of the offshore area in Alaska.
Since then, the bans have been renewed by Congress year after year because of environmental concerens. President George H. W. Bush also reinforced the ban when he issued an executive order in 1990. However, now it seems that the U.S. has lost its concern for the welfare of the planet.
The ban has recently expired and with rising gas prices and the economy in a crisis, the ocean surrounding the U.S. may be in danger once again.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently made a bold move on this issue, when they voted to lift the twenty-seven year old congressional ban on drilling off of the East and West coasts on Sept. 25.
Then, the Senate approved the lifting of the ban which calls for a spending bill of $630 billion on Sept. 27. In addition, President George W. Bush lifted the excutive ban on offshore drilling in July after urging Congress to lift legislative restirctions in order to address the rising fuel costs.
However, this does not necessarily mean drilling will begin right away, as of now it’s simply a temporary move. Ultimately, the long-term decisions on offshore drilling will be left to Congress and to the administration of the next President.
In addition, even if the federal ban is lifted, states would still have the right to prohibit drilling off their coasts.
Despite this hopeful news, lifting the congressional ban does give the Bush administration the funding it needs to begin preparing oil and gas lease sales around the nation’s coastline, as close as three miles from shore.
While drilling proponents argue that offshore drilling is beneficial in the long run because it produces more oil, lowers the price of oil, and limits the United States‘ dependence on foreign countries for oil, there are just too many negatives to this practice.
Experts have noted that lifting the ban does not mean significant rise on domestic oil output in a short period of time and its effect could hardly be felt for the next ten years. Consequently, Americans will not be getting cheaper gas anytime soon.
Many Americans are so quick to agree to anything that will ensure them cheaper oil, but rarely do they stop to think of the consequences. What about the ocean and the life which lives in its waters? The fish and marine mammals that are harmed because of oil spills?
The catastrophic oil spill off the Santa Barbara Coast in 1969 is a prime example of what is at risk if America allows offshore drilling. More than three million gallons of oil flowed from a drilling rig blowout and covered thirty-five miles of coastline.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a speech to the California Common Wealth Club in San Fransico on Sept. 26 in which he recalled memories of walking along the beach after the Santa Barbra oil spill.

Schwarzenegger, who opposes offshore drilling said, “Every single time I walked around Muscle beach, my feet were stuck with tar and there were dead birds laying around. I think the people of California don’t want to go through that again. I think we must protect our pristine coastline. "
Presidential hopeful John McCain supports offshore drilling and has made it a key element of his energy plan with his “drill here, drill now slogan". On the other hand, Barack Obama opposes offshore drilling.
Offshore drilling is not a quick fix for pain at the pump according to the Boston Globe, anaylsts say oil prices are set by global supply and demand and therefore would not mean lower prices for Americans. Basically, it would have very little impact on gas prices for about another ten years.
The amount of extra oil accumulated by drilling is too small and would take too long to be worth the cost in possible environmental damage. It is not worth the risk.
According to USA Today, when oil is brought up from beneath the ocean floor, chemicals and toxic substances such as mercury and lead are too. These are then discharged back into the ocean.
In addition, the water pumped up along with the oil may contain benzene, arsenic, and other pollutants which harm sea mammals.
Even the methods of cleaning up oil spills is harmful to the environment. For example, controlled burning is used to reduce the amount of oil in the water, but it can cause air pollution. When oil is burned it releases toxic chemicals such as Carbon Dioxide into the air that rises and destroys the o-zone layer. Carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere, and the planet becomes hotter. The trapping of heat can create a huge change in climate, which can seriously affect wildlife and ecosystems around the world.
According to the burning of these fuels creates sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides in the air and when they mix with moisture, acid rain is created. The acid rain pours down into rivers, lakes and streams and can kill plants, fish and wildlife. It’s not just the animals and plants that are harmed, constant acid rain damages buildings, statues and other structures. Concrete, brick and other building substances are literally eaten away.
The consequences will affect us on a global scale. More pollution and environmental damage caused by burning the oil contributes to global warming. It’s not just the marine life that will suffer from the results of drilling, the world will too.
Another method of mobilizing the oil is through the release of dispersants which attach themselves to the oil and allow it to be carried away in the water, but the oil droplets then disperse into deeper water and contaminate coral. Dispersants are toxic to coral and kill it. This results in the loss of eco-systems and natural habitats for the thousands of species that live there. Not to mention that oil spills take months even years to clean up.
If offshore drilling is allowed it will ease the oil problem for a few years, but then what? Action must be taken now. It will be too late if America waits to find alternative energy resources in the future.
If we invest in new technologies such as solar and wind energy as well as biofuels we will reduce the harmful impact in the future. Proponents of offshore drilling argue that this type of technology is too expensive for the country to be spending money on at this time especially when America’s economy is in a crisis, but if we don’t do anything about it now we will be in danger in the future.
If we just sit on the sidelines and watch, believing that the earth will not be affected we will run out of resources. The time to act is now.
The real solution is to become more efficient and switch to alternative energy and fuels. Wind energy is plentiful, renewable, clean, and reduces green house gas emmisions. Therefore, it is more environmentally friendly. There is much work to be done, but the truth is that there are alternatives to offshore drilling.
Water off the coast of the U.S. has been protected for twenty-seven years and in order to ensure the health of our planet, it should be kept that way.

The author's comments:
I wrote this article for the Opinions section of my high school's newspaper, The Clarion. It is a very important subject that more people need to be aware about. As a lover of the ocean, I think more people need to be informed on the dangers of offshore drilling and what our alternatives are. It's up to us to protect mother nature.

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