The federal government has proposed a program that would lease even more land for offshore drilling, just days before the 6-year marker of the BP spill.
Few can forget the rattling images of offshore oil rigs spewing clouds of pitch-black smoke or sea creatures doused in oil washing up on the Gulf of Mexico’s shores – and yet, the government has decided to move forward with more drilling.
Just two days shy of the six-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Obama’s administration approved a five-year plan to lease out large parcels of the Arctic seas and the Gulf of Mexico for more offshore drilling, from the years 2017-2022. Federal regulators held a public forum in New Orleans to assess the environmental impacts this new plan will produce.
Opponents and protesters alike were appalled, inciting a rally outside of the meeting where regulators were waiting with informational packets. Police were heavily represented at the forum, given recent protests that have erupted given the measures taken by the government. Their contempt is exasperated by the residual effects the region has experienced from that 200 million gallon spill.
Nearly two weeks ago, a New Orleans federal court approved a $20 billion settlement between BP and the five Gulf Coast states that endured the brunt of the ecological damage; environmentalists, however, criticized it for allowing BP to write off most of the funds as regular business expenses.
The draft of the environmental impact statement (EIS) that was released on Monday is required by federal law and calls for officials to take comments before finalizing and moving forward with the project. The document is hundreds of pages and seeks to predict how another “catastrophic” event like the BP spill would affect the Gulf and Arctic; however, it states that another spill of that magnitude is “unlikely to occur”, even if the increased land parcels are actually leased.
Obama’s administration recently faced heavy scrutiny for a plan to open federal waters in the Atlantic for a similar increase in offshore drilling, and ultimately decided to pull it; this was a major environmental victory whose arguments are now being echoed by similar proponents in the south. As Anne Rolfes, director of the environmental justice group called the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, stated: “we are inspired by the victory against drilling on the Atlantic Coast, so we’re telling Big Oil to take their rigs and go home.”
The upcoming presidential election could have a direct impact on the decision made; unsurprisingly, Republican candidates support the program outright, whereas Hillary Clinton has offered vague reforms to the leasing terms. Sen. Bernie Sanders has promised to immediately cut the plan and ban onshore drilling on public lands.
BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) officials expect to finalize the EIS by the end of the year, with a final decision in early 2017. As it stands, they can continue with the initial proposed plan, continue and add extra protections for environmental concerns, or cancel the offshore program entirely.
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