In view of all the other environmental rollbacks of the past year, it is unsurprising and yet still somehow shocking that the Trump Administration would move toward opening the West Coast to petroleum exploration.
Perhaps best viewed as a middle-finger salute by the president to the three mainland Pacific states that voted for his opponent, the immediate consequences of the oil-leasing plan are likely to be few — at least off Washington and Oregon.
Not only will the administration’s action be tied up in political wrangling and lawsuits for years, there is substantial room to doubt whether there actually is an economic quantity of fossil fuel to be found here.
Past onshore drilling on the Pacific Northwest coast hasn’t proven successful and there is reason to suspect that eons of subduction zone earthquakes have rendered our geology unconducive to the formation of hydrocarbon deposits.
No matter what the prospects for future exploration and exploitation of oil may be in our waters, the governors of Washington, Oregon and California are absolutely right to mount a unified front of opposition to the very notion of drilling. They deserve our ongoing encouragement and support in blocking this blockheaded proposal.
Time after time we have seen horrific environmental costs from oil development and transportation. From the Exxon Valdez disaster to the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the giant corporations that run this industry and the undermanned agencies that police it have shown themselves incapable of guaranteeing there will not be horrific, negligent incidents for which they are loath to take responsibility.
Any such “accident” off of the Oregon Coast would have the distinct potential of killing several crucial industries — tourism, oystering, crabbing and fishing.
As the governors asserted last week in a joint statement, the administration has “chosen to forget the utter devastation of past offshore oil spills to wildlife and to the fishing, recreation and tourism industries in our states. They’ve chosen to ignore the science that tells us our climate is changing and we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But we won’t forget history or ignore science ... For more than 30 years, our shared coastline has been protected from further federal drilling and we’ll do whatever it takes to stop this reckless, short-sighted action.”
Even the somewhat more modest exploratory activities associated with identifying oil deposits in the first place have the potential of harming rockfish habitat, interfering with whale migrations and feeding, and increasing vessel traffic and noise in areas essential to endangered species from salmon to orcas.
Those who oppose offshore oil and gas exploration in Pacific Northwest and Alaskan waters have been painted as obstructionist worrywarts, more concerned with sea otters and kelp than energy independence.
In fact, few Americans of any political persuasion dispute that, for now, we continue to need fossil fuels to power our vehicles and help warm our homes. But there currently is no shortage of oil that could possibly justify placing the West Coast at risk. Gasoline prices remain stable. Adjusted for inflation, they are about what they were 90 years ago — and down from a decade ago.
Opening the West Coast to drilling is about greed and politics, not about need for energy. It should be stopped dead in its tracks.