The Gulf Coast
The Central and Western Gulf of Mexico have long served as America's sacrifice zone for our nation's addiction to oil. On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded forty miles off the Louisiana coast, setting off a chain of events that resulted in eleven lives lost and the nation's worst ecological disaster in history. By the time the gushing well temporarily was capped on July 15, 2010, nearly 180 million gallons of crude oil had spewed into the Gulf of Mexico and almost two million gallons of dispersants sprayed into its waters, while thousands of birds, sea turtles, and other marine life were killed and hundreds of miles of shoreline were oiled.
Even now, one year after the tragedy began, the region's ecology, economy, and people are still reeling from the devastation, and the full extent of the damage will not be known for many years to come. In addition to massive job losses in the fishing, seafood, and tourism industries and lingering damage to coastlines and marine life, we are now seeing workers and families who have built their lives on these industries suffering psychological trauma from the catastrophe. Oil-spill cleanup workers and responders are also suffering from illnesses related to the disaster.
Since the disaster began, the Sierra Club has been working closely with affected communities, environmental and social justice groups, fishermen, faith groups, coastal tribes, labor, businesses, and local, state, and federal decision-makers to ensure that Gulf Coast citizens and the region's natural treasures are made whole again and that BP and the oil industry are held fully accountable.
Our Campaign to Restore and Protect the Gulf Coast
The Sierra Club's efforts to restore the Gulf Coast focus on providing accountability and restoring public trust in recovery efforts, ensuring independent peer-reviewed science informs ecological restoration, promoting accountability of the oil industry through policy reform, and moving the Gulf Coast beyond oil.
More specific campaign goals include:
- The oil industry has a long track record of devastating our coast. The BP Oil Disaster has added insult to injury by adversely impacting our communities, the environment, and public health. Gulf Coast communities deserve for 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines to be dedicated to ecological restoration and community renewal.
- The presidential Oil Spill Commission found that the problems leading to the disaster were not unique to BP but are pervasive within the oil industry. This is a systemic problem that must be addressed before any new exploration leases or drilling permits are granted.
- A Regional Citizens' Advisory Counci can serve to direct and oversee renewable energy production in the Gulf of Mexico. As the region begins to the transition away from oil, the Council can help push for alternative modes of industry and ensure the implementation of renewable energy production.
- Independent oversight is crucial as we continue to utilize the Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas production and exploration. By creating a Regional Citizens' Advisory Council that includes community leaders who live and work on the Gulf Coast in the review process, leases can be monitored and evaluated more closely and provide essential on-the-ground insight.
- Independent, peer-reviewed science is crucial to the restoration of the Gulf Coast, as well as serving as an unbiased monitor of the oil industry. Funding independent studies of the impacts from the oil disaster, as well as the ability to review industry procedures is essential to ensure a sustainable, healthy coast.
- An investment in green jobs and clean energy produces almost four times as many jobs as the same investment in the oil industry. Now is the time to invest in cleaner technologies and regulatory protections that will save our coast and protect our communities.
- The Gulf Coast has the opportunity to be a leader in energy-efficient technologies. Louisiana can secure a stronger economy by creating green jobs instead of investing in dirty jobs that harm our environment and public health. By providing other alternatives to Gulf Coast citizens, we can change the public and elected leadership's views on clean energy and green jobs.
Now Is the Time to Move Beyond
Thirty percent of our domestic oil production comes from the Gulf of Mexico, where there are 3,500 production platforms in federal waters. Currently, several dozen of those are deepwater drilling rigs and production platforms. Importantly, on December 1, 2010, the Obama administration announced that it would not allow drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico or along the Atlantic coast as part of the Department of Interior's new five-year drilling plan.
The BP Oil Disaster vividly demonstrated that our nation's approach to oil and gas activities on the Outer Continental Shelf, including the Central and Western Gulf, was fundamentally flawed. Previous agencies did too little to ensure that coastal and marine habitats, and citizens who live along the Gulf shores, received adequate protection.
The best way to protect the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico is to end our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels. Instead of new drilling in the Gulf, our nation should be investing in the kind of clean energy that will create jobs and infuse new life into our economy while safeguarding our environment and public health. The BP Oil Disaster should serve as a catalyst that will launch our nation toward a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.