Do We Need a Search For More Oil?

The following remarks were presented to the February 28, 2018, EPA Listening Session in San Francisco, CA, held to obtain public comments on the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

“The Trump administration proposes that the California Coast (and other coastal regions of the United States with the possible exception of Florida) be opened to new oil and gas exploration and drilling opportunities.  We ask two questions in response:  do we need more oil, and what are the benefits and risks?


Does society need more sources of oil and gas?  Studies have shown energy companies have three times the fossil fuel (coal, oil and natural gas) resources than we can safely burn.  Climate modeling shows there is only a measurable amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that can be emitted into the atmosphere over the next 40 years if we are to keep global temperature rise within the safe 2 degrees Celsius / 4 degrees Fahrenheit threshold.  Yet burning current global fossil fuel reserves will convert to almost three-times this amount of CO2.  In other words, some 60% – 70% of existing reserves need to stay in the ground to avoid further, increasing unstable climate change.  We don’t need more unburnable reserves.

Do the benefits exceed the risks?  Benefits usually cited for oil exploration are economic, geopolitical and environmental (habitat).  Offshore drilling and production produces the economic benefits of jobs and increased government revenues.  Increased US energy security and independence is the primary geopolitical benefit; and the creation of marine habitats by drilling structures is the primary environmental benefit cited.


But economic benefits are not unique to offshore oil exploration and production.  ANY energy investment will yield benefits: renewable energy investments create jobs in the solar and wind industries without incurring the (unaccounted) costs of government-funded cleanup and health remediation efforts as profits are privatized and risks are left to the public sector (and individual citizens) to remedy.  Since ANY form of energy investment creates economic benefits, we see no benefit continuing to invest in yesterday’s sources that may well not be consumable tomorrow.


A second area of not-so-positive economic impact is local tourism (an annual $120 billion industry in California). Tourism is not enhanced by added offshore activity:  the risks of drilling and production-related leaks and spills will be borne most heavily by locales with beaches and marine sanctuaries.   Beyond this is the ongoing effect on local communities.  As the North Dakota Bakken oil shale boom demonstrated, the influx of thousands of outside workers to local communities did result in added expenditures and incomes, but increased crime while creating housing shortages.  In response to the Bakken boom, the FBI even stationed additional agents in the area!  None of these effects will enhance tourism.

The major geopolitical benefit of energy development cited for the United States is its contribution to Energy Security.  With additional domestic energy resources, we become less dependent on oil imported from unstable world regions.  Yet energy security is equally achieved with an expansion of renewable sources—sun and wind need not be imported and likewise contribute to energy security.  Meanwhile, petroleum industry and government projections that offshore oil developments allow the United States to become a growing energy exporter undermine this contention.  Is our goal to be an exporter or to increase our own country’s energy security? If it’s energy security we seek, we have plenty of renewable “reserves” and they are not the terrorists targets that pipelines and major gas plants can be.

Finally, offshore drilling supporters identify environmental benefits: studies have shown abandoned oil rigs provide a new home for fish and other marine species.    While this is locally true, the adverse effects of pollution from drilling and production, leaks (not to mention the potential of spills), and underwater noise (with its impact on migrating species) during a rig’s operating life needs also to be considered. These adverse, region-wide impacts appear to offset any localized habitat improvement of abandoned rigs. If it’s habitat we seek, abandonment is the operative word: let’s abandon more of the rigs, reducing the risk of another BP disaster.

Our oceans are a sacred part of Creation, and the source of life.  We fail to see a need for added oil reserves, nor do the claimed benefits show they exceed alternatives and the risks.   We urge the proposals opening coastal regions to oil and gas exploration and drilling be rescinded.”  

This opinion is also posted at Interfaith Power & Light

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