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huntington beach oil spill

Workers clean up oil that leaked from an offshore rig and flowed into the Talbert Marsh in Huntington Beach, California on October 3, 2021. (Photo: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Coalition Says Biden Should Offer This Many Offshore Drilling Leases: Zero

"We cannot continue down a path that overlooks the irreversible damage of Big Oil," warned one campaigner.

Jessica Corbett

"Refineries, storage facilities, toxic waste sites, pipelines, and oil trains are poisoning neighborhoods. Children suffer debilitating asthma, loved ones die painful deaths, land is sinking, coastlines are eroding, and the seas are rising from relentless fossil fuel development. Enough is enough."

"Offshore drilling is harming our communities, wreaking havoc on the environment, and contributing to the 'code red' crisis of global climate change."

That's what a coalition of 193 organizations—including four dozen groups from Alaska and the Gulf Coast—wrote to a pair of Biden administration leaders on Wednesday, the day before the conclusion of a comment period for the U.S. Department of the Interior's five-year offshore drilling plan.

"Offshore drilling is harming our communities, wreaking havoc on the environment, and contributing to the 'code red' crisis of global climate change," the coalition's letter argues. "The proposal of 95+ million acres for more oil and gas development turns its back on the people who have been living with the effects of the industry for generations. It locks in this pain for generations more."

"It overlooks the ongoing, unprecedented, and soon irreversible damage from fossil fuels, only to pad the pockets of the industry under the guise of 'energy security.' It undermines the broken promise of no new leases," the letter continues. "We maintain our unified demand despite Congress's recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which contains distressing language concerning offshore drilling."

While the Inflation Reduction Act has been heralded as a historic climate package, it conditions using federal lands and waters for wind and solar development on future fossil fuel leasing and enabled drilling in parts of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico previously blocked by the Biden administration.

"These provisions do not reflect public sentiment or the will of the people, who predominantly oppose continued offshore drilling," the letter asserts. "Of paramount concern is the perpetuation of the central and western Gulf of Mexico and Alaska's Cook Inlet as the nation's sacrificial zones to offshore drilling."

"Insultingly, the proposal concludes that cumulative impacts of 11 additional sales will be felt less in these areas due to the very fact that they are already sacrificial zones replete with industrial development," the letter states. "This is akin to telling a cancer patient they do not need treatment, because they are already sick."

The groups also highlighted that "catastrophic oil spills are one of the many inevitable consequences of offshore drilling," detailing some of the impacts of previous disasters.

"When combined with sea level rise and more extreme storms, offshore drilling also places coastal communities at the frontlines of the climate crisis," the coalition noted. "Communities and tribes in the area are already climate migrants, having been displaced due to fossil fuels and climate change."

The organizations also declared that "extractivism perpetuates the ethnocide of Indigenous people that began hundreds of years ago with the first colonists" and emphasized that the federal government "must ensure that it has free, prior, and informed consent—meaning consent that is given freely, by people fully informed of the consequences—before development can proceed."

Given the harms and risks of offshore drilling, the coalition told Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Amanda Lefton and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland that "we must reverse course with swift and meaningful action, starting with no new leases in the final five-year program, and instead investing resources toward clean, justly sourced renewable energy."

Representatives from groups that signed on to the letter reiterated its main arguments in a statement Wednesday.

"In an era when we can plainly see that climate chaos is escalating and we know that we must reduce emissions immediately and drastically, continued fossil fuel extraction is a universal and existential threat," said Virginia Richard, Gulf program manager at SouthWings.

While the worsening climate emergency endangers all life on Earth, some campaigners stressed that the impacts of the fossil fuel-driven crisis are not equally endured.

"With rising sea levels causing more frequent and extreme storms, offshore drilling forces coastal communities right into the climate crisis' line of fire," said Friends of the Earth campaigner Raena Garcia. "People and ecosystems are enduring tremendous harm at the expense of the fossil fuel industry's ballooning wealth. We cannot continue down a path that overlooks the irreversible damage of Big Oil."

"Every oil spill begins with a lease sale and that is not the story we want to tell our future generations."

CLEO Institute executive director Yoca Arditi-Rocha pointed out that "in 2010, the Gulf Coast region of Florida was devastated by the BP Oil spill that caused 4.9 million barrels of oil to leak into the Gulf, making it the largest oil spill in U.S. history."

"Twelve years later, our Gulf has not recovered and our coastal communities are still feeling the direct and indirect impacts of our fossil fuel addiction," Arditi-Rocha added. "Hurricane Irma, Michael, and now Ian are a testament of that."

Taylor Kendal Smith, communications director at Cook Inletkeeper, noted that "every oil spill begins with a lease sale and that is not the story we want to tell our future generations."

"Alaskan economies, subsistence, tourism, and health depend upon our lands and waters," she said. "We have stood up repeatedly to say no to oil and gas leasing in our waters and frontline communities cannot afford for us to continue down this path."

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