Environmental Defense Calls Offshore Drilling A Tragic Sacrifice

July 20, 2001

Environmental Defense called today’s anticipated release of the Bush administration’s five-year offshore oil and gas drilling proposal “a tragic sacrifice of Alaska’s fisheries and fragile marine environment.”

The plan is reported to target virgin unexplored “frontier” waters off the Alaskan shore, where no technology for the cleanup of spilled oil in heavy seas and broken sea ice has yet been developed. The plan also announces the timing and location for all proposed offshore drilling “lease sales” to be held by the Interior Department between 2002 and 2007.

“This aggressive move to speed up drilling in risky areas represents a tragic sacrifice of Alaska’s fisheries and fragile marine environment,” said Environmental Defense marine conservation advocate Richard Charter.

“Unfortunately the public is now hearing the same vague reassurances it heard when the first large oil tankers were allowed into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Those false reassurances led directly to the Exxon-Valdez disaster that continues to poison the Alaskan marine ecosystem with residual oil, well over a decade after the spill,” said Elizabeth Thompson, legislative director for Environmental Defense. “In addition to the threat to Alaska, today’s proposal will bring offshore drilling rigs ever closer to the white sandy beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast, threatening the visitor-serving economy in that region.”

The newly-proposed offshore drilling program also includes a 1.5 million acre plan called “Lease Sale #181”, which would bring new offshore leasing into the Eastern Gulf of Mexico Planning Area for the first time. This new lease sale was the recent target of a six-month deferral passed by the House of Representatives, but a similar delaying amendment offered in the U.S. Senate was defeated on July 12. A House-Senate Conference Committee will work out the differences between the House and Senate bills regarding Sale #181 later this summer.

A public comment period on the proposed offshore drilling plan is now open, with letters from interested citizens currently being accepted by the Department of Interior.