Boats that used to bring in fish and shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico are now dredging oil and carrying boom - like this one. Photo by Jordan Macha of the Sierra Club.
While the oil industry is banging the drum that an offshore drilling moratorium will destroy the Gulf Coast economy, they seem to be overlooking that the BP oil disaster has already taken care of that.
The economic consequences of another oil disaster far outweigh any losses due to a moratorium. It only takes one accident or failure on an oil rig to endanger the whole Gulf's economy - and the reality is that where there is offshore drilling, there are oil spills.The Gulf Coast's tourism and fishing industries will be in jeopardy as long as drilling is taking place. Fishing, shrimping and tourism have been a way of life in this region for years. Those industries and jobs need to be restored. Tourism makes up about 46% of the Gulf economy, or over $100 billion a year.
Estimates show that tourism alone will suffer losses of $8.4 billion region-wide due to the oil spill, with Louisiana and Florida taking the biggest hits. The University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness projects that the spill could cost Florida $10.9 billion in lost economic activity and 195,000 jobs.
More drilling now would only put this area at risk for a second spill, or a third. Proposing new drilling when the region is still reeling from millions of gallons of oil contamination is a slap in the face to Gulf Coast communities.
And while other oil companies are saying this oil disaster is just a mistake by BP alone, the safety issues raised by the BP blowout are not unique to BP. Rather, they are indicative of an industry-wide practice of risky drilling and lax safety measures.
In deepwater drilling, there have been 185 rigs with blowouts, fires, or sunk completely worldwide - 16 of those were located in the Gulf of Mexico and occurred within the past 25 years.
More major spills happen in the Gulf of Mexico than anywhere in the world: 267 spills of over 10,000 gallons since 1960.
And how is the oil industry responding? Well certainly not by making more safety investments. Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) stated a startling fact in a hearing earlier this summer (PDF):
"(The oil industry has) invested zero time and money into developing safety and response efforts....The (three) oil companies before us today amassed nearly $289 billion in profits over the last 3 years. They spent $39 billion to explore for new oil and gas. Yet the average investment in research and development for safety, accident prevention, and spill response was a paltry $20 million per year, less than one-tenth of one percent of their profits."
The Gulf Coast deserves better. Instead of putting these communities at risk for more oil disasters, we should be investing in clean energy, which will accelerate and expand the number of sustainable, healthy jobs in the area.
While the oil industry is costing jobs along the Gulf Coast, clean energy is already bringing them home. In Louisiana alone, the number of clean-energy jobs grew by 19.5 percent between 1998 and 2007 (PDF), while jobs overall grew by 3 percent. There is huge growth potential for green jobs in Louisiana - and along the entire Gulf Coast.
The most important thing we can do for the Gulf Coast now is make sure an oil disaster never happens again. A moratorium on new deepwater drilling addresses the immediate risk to the Gulf Coast. We also need a long term plan to prevent further oil disasters. We need President Obama to chart a course that will end America's oil dependence in the next twenty years.
More on Offshore Drilling
Offshore Drilling: Is Energy Worth the Ecological Disaster of Oil Spills?
WATCH VIDEO: Offshore Drilling Explained
Green Glossary: Offshore Drilling
Obama Bans Offshore Drilling Until Investigation in Gulf Spill Complete