The move to open pretty much the entirety of America’s coastline to offshore oil drilling, announced back in January by the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Ryan Zinke, came as a deeply disappointing shock to conservationists, zoologists, marine ecologists, fisheries, lawmakers, and more. A new report has suggested that if the plans were to go ahead, 68 coastal National Park sites would be at risk.
The report, composed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) – an environmental advocacy group – and the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), makes for a melancholy read. Reminding us all that these National Parks are home to a plethora of biodiverse ecologies, it outlines state by state what’s at stake here, citing studies and federal data throughout.
Alaska’s coastal parks, for example, are home to a wide number of threatened and endangered species, like the humpback whale and the Steller sea lion. The state’s Glacier Bay National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to stunning glaciers and diverse wildlife. Over in California, you’ve got an enormous list of remarkable birds, reptiles, fish, mammals and amphibians living within these National Parks.
The report also notes that the states that Zinke wishes to drill in generated at least $5.7 billion to the GDP in 2017 through recreation and tourism alone. In the same year, these states supported National Park-related 59,517 jobs – more than currently exists in the entire US coal industry.
The report stresses that although these National Parks “have earned some of the strongest legal protections afforded to public lands, the administration’s proposal puts our nation’s treasures at risk.” At the same time, it must be highlighted that the Trump administration is also hoping to rollback Obama-era oil rig safety regulations in the Gulf – those put in place after the infamous Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.
The fact that the federal government is pushing for more oil at a time when decarbonized economies is clearly the way to go is a disappointment, particularly with regards to climate change. This report, then, reminds us that this counterproductive pivot toward fossil fuels, when put into practice, is also a threat to the US – ecologically, environmentally, socially and economically.
The NRDC and the NPCA are also indirectly reminding us of something else: The administration’s full-steam ahead proposal on offshore oil drilling shows flagrant disregard to the careful and considerate process normally used to assess such things.
As explained in this excellent video by Slate, every few years, the DOI reviews which areas of the coastline should be allowed to be drilled. The requests of each state are considered, and if the area is found to contain endangered species or is vital for the fishing industry, say, then it’s left off the permitted list.
This list itself tends to include only a handful of spots. In fact, several presidents have even placed moratoriums along parts of the coastline so drilling can never take place there. That’s why the Trump administration’s proposal to drill along all of the coastline, except for one small segment of it, came as an understandably unpleasant surprise for many.
The oil industry’s pressure has since transformed into jubilance, as well as ambitious economic projections – but they’re pretty much alone in that regard. Aghast at the proposal, states have been filing for exemptions and erecting legal barriers to varying degrees of success, which has led to very bitter disputes about bias and political favoritism.
Update: Originally, this referred to 68 National Parks, when it's actually National Park sites. Apologies for the error!