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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Offshore drilling: Big bucks or major mistake?

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said both Jesus and Abraham Lincoln. Well if they’re right, then it looks like we’re all in trouble, given the House of Representatives’ divisive split over the latest oil drilling drama.

The House has recently approved a controversial bill that, if approved by the Senate, will end a 25-year moratorium on oil and natural gas drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as in the Gulf of Mexico.

Currently, states have jurisdiction over the first three miles of water extending from their shores (with a nine-mile exception on Texas and Florida’s Gulf coasts). This new legislation, however, offers billions of federal dollars to states that allow offshore drilling at any distance offshore. Waterways more than 100 miles offshore are available for unlimited drilling; waterways between 50 and 100 miles out are open as long as the state does not protest, and waterways within 50 miles of shore are closed to drilling unless the state should choose to open them.

Proponents of the bill, holding 232 of the 419 House votes, argue that the change in legislation will affirm states’ rights over their own coasts, while providing much-needed income, employment, and a boost to the economy. “[The bill] represents a significant step toward energy independence, preserves states’ authority over the coastlines, and respects the environment,” asserts Representative Neil Abercrombie (D-HI).

In contrast, detractors argue just the opposite. “This bill basically hands over our coastal waters to oil interests and makes it hard for states or citizens to do anything about it,” assesses Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). Alcee Hasting (D-FL) calls it “a black eye for generations to come... bad for the environment, bad for tourism, bad for business.” Economic analysts argue that the financial rewards outlined in the bill would gift just four states where offshore drilling is already permitted – Alabama, Lousiana, Mississippi, and Texas – with more than $600 billion from the federal treasury, according to Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, who describes the bill as “a raid on the federal treasury.” Even the Bush administration has openly opposed the bill’s financial aspects, questioning the wisdom of such fund allocation.

Financial furor has likewise struck the Senate, where an alternative version of the bill is currently stalled over monetary arrangements. This incarnation of the legislation, which would open up just 2.9 million currently protected acres in the Gulf of Mexico, passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in March.

While distribution of federal dollars is certainly a concern, this emphasis on the bottom line, at the expense of other factors, is frankly disturbing. It is unarguably true that, given our current rate of energy consumption, America ought to be searching for new sources of energy. However, to environmentally-concerned citizens, it is clear that this bill is these are merely a short term solution. Tapping a soon-exhausted source of already-dwindling fossil fuels addresses the symptom of our immediate need, but does not resolve the real problem at hand: our insatiable rate of continuous energy consumption. No matter how much we drill, we will eventually exhaust the earth’s supplies of natural gas and oil. Perhaps our House’s time would be better spent brainstorming on a long-term solution to our energy crisis, rather than some quick cash…

by Sara Kate Kneidel
Greener Magazine

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