TABLE OF CONTENTS
Richard Charter, Co-Chair, National OCS Coalition, Bodega Bay, California
It wouldn’t be California without the California coast. Here in this paradise, all of our rivers touch the sea, and the ocean links each of our watersheds into one seamless and magnificent ecosystem. Our clean ocean is, after all, the underlying substrate--the common thread--on which we base our coastal economy and our feeble but dedicated human efforts to rebuild damaged fisheries and revitalize silted-in rivers. We try to maintain, and even rebuild, the web of life on which we all depend. But our restoration projects, like our coast, are now all at extreme risk.
Unthinkable as it seems, our coast may not be recognizable much longer, given the runaway anti-environmental political climate afflicting the current leadership in Congress. Powerful committee chairmen in both the House and Senate are now imagining a potential for oil or gas under every rock, and some of those rocks are very scenic and lie right off the Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte County coastlines.
Fragile Coast, Fragile Protection, Scary Congress
At the same time, however, the House and the Senate were also busy finishing up work on an “omnibus energy bill” this summer, something Congress usually takes up every decade or so. Major policy debates unfolded as US automakers fought against reasonable corporate automobile fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards, and Congress rejected or watered down other baby steps toward a renewable energy society. As this first 2005 energy bill progressed through the various legislative stages, numerous efforts were made on behalf of the oil industry to use this bill to weaken or remove the annual OCS moratorium. With luck and heroic bipartisan legislative efforts on the part of dozens of coastal Housemembers and Senators, the worst of these attacks on coastal protection were thwarted.
Can a Hurricane in Louisiana Still Hit Our Own Coast?
During this epic storm on the Gulf coast, a few of the drilling rigs offshore in the Gulf of Mexico completely disappeared, others suffered major structural damage, and some were blown “off station” for long distances as their anchor cables failed. About two-thirds of the volume of oil released during the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker grounding was spilled from various damaged petroleum installations. As a result of this mess, the oil industry itself is presently involved in an internal dialogue about why their offshore drilling infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico was “under-engineered” (the oil industry’s own term).
Various oil companies have also spent the last forty years carving thousands of canals and channels into the storm-buffering natural wetlands of the Gulf coast to gain access to drilling sites and to excavate oil and gas pipeline corridors. Their extensive dredging caused massive coastal erosion over the years that contributed to the eventual storm surge damage from Hurricane Katrina. This is the same industry whose extraction of oil and gas has caused significant subsidence, resulting in measurable declines in coastal elevation, along much of the US Gulf Coast.