To celebrate Earth Day today, parents can spend $29.99 on Peat the Penguin, an emerald-tinted plush toy made of soy fibers who ardently supports recycling, reusing and reducing waste. Or they can consider the oil used to transport Peat from its socially responsible factory to FAO Schwartz and then to a child's bedroom.
Picture Democratic voters Ashley and Marcus in their New York brownstone, wanting to do the best for their baby's future, worried about foreign oil, worried about that pristine South Carolina beach hideaway where they first kissed, wanting to trust President Obama's decision to lift the moratorium on offshore oil drilling to garner Republican support for a climate bill. After all, the President is just opening the door to exploration. That's not so bad, right?
On April 6, 2010, 18,000 gallons of oil were spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, covering an area 120 square miles, including about 1/5 the area of the Delta National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to a variety of raccoons (shown), raptors, songbirds, and deer, among other animals, and provides an important nursery for both freshwater and saltwater fish.
Ashley frowns. "I didn't hear anything about that."
Two reasons present themselves. The spill happened the day after the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion, and perhaps there's only so much fossil-fueled-disaster news our media can handle. However, the Financial Times presents a second reason for keeping this story quiet: "the oil industry should be on its best behavior. After all, it must prove to the US public that it is environmentally responsible enough to drill in areas that have long been protected." Further, the oil industry "should have the technology to ensure its staff can see a pipeline in the shallow waters of the refuge. For now all details are being filtered through a joint command of all those involved, led by the Coast Guard." The Times-Picayune explains: "The news release [regarding the 18,000 gallon spill] was distributed jointly by the Coast Guard, the state of Louisiana and the pipeline operator, Cypress Pipe Line Co. -- a joint venture between BP PLC and Chevron Pipe Line Co." Or, as this blogger opines: the Coast Guard and Big Oil are jointly shutting down news.
Marcus says, "I heard about something down in the Gulf of Mexico the last couple of days, but was that the same thing?"
That's a different story, not one that can be easily blacked out. The Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig, exploded while doing exploratory drilling about 50 miles out. Twelve workers are missing, and at least four have been critically injured. The burning drill rig has collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico. And a storm threatens to push oil ashore on to the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi.
"It's a dangerous job, but the workers are well paid, and it's gotten safer over the years," Ashley says. Since 2001, there have been 69 offshore deaths, 1,349 injuries and 858 fires and explosions in the Gulf, according to the federal Minerals Management Service. Easy oil is gone. Modern day rigs, such as Deepwater Horizon, are made to drill deeper into the earth, where higher pressure means more risk of explosion.
"Drilling benefits taxpayers," Marcus says. Except when the Mineral Management Service (the federal agency in charge of the offshore drilling program) fails to accurately track production of oil and gas leases on federal land, as a recent GAO audit disclosed. Thanks to a bad 1995 law, the oil companies aren't even paying royalties for some drilling on public lands.
Marcus frowns. "President Obama campaigned on a promise to respect science, unlike Bush. After the election he even wrote a memo on scientific integrity. So he wouldn't open up half the Atlantic Seaboard for the first time ever unless the science warrants doing so."
Actually, science does not support exploration or drilling. Back in October 2009, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration already warned Obama to exclude the Atlantic seaboard from offshore drilling -- a warning that Obama ignored in his March 31, 2010 announcement. The NOAA recommended proceeding with caution in drilling off the environmentally sensitive Chukchi and Beaufort seas -- a recommendation that Obama likewise ignored.
Further proving that politics trumps science, a recent GAO report found that the Washington MMS withheld critical data from its own staff in Alaska. How recent? The report is dated March 8, 2010, three weeks before Obama's announcement, but not released to the public until a week after the announcement.
"Yes, what about the polar bears?" asks Ashley. "Greenzys' cute Rooty the Polar Bear, is said to be 'a little grumpy because his home is disappearing.' That's really sad. But, gosh, action seems futile. And I don't like the idea of attacking President Obama -- he's so much better than Bush." (Photo credit: Greenzys.)
Outraged activists circulated online petitions asking Obama not to drill shortly after the President's announcement. However, remembering the President's comment about tough decisions and "those who strongly disagree with this decision, including those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling," it's unlikely that he'll listen.
Obama's decision is likely to be challenged in court, where the courts will consider a strong public record opposing offshore drilling. The creation of that public record begins with the Minerals Management Service's public scoping process. Comments can be submitted through June 30 on the MMS website here. The MMS specifically encourages people to comment on
climate change as an impact factor in cumulative analyses, the effects of the OCS [Outer Continental Shelf] program on climate change, potential impacts from accidental oil spills, potential impacts to tourism and recreation activities, and ecological impacts from potential degradation of marine and coastal habitats.
"I'm really bothered by these two oil spills within two weeks of each other. I don't like the way the first one has a media blackout, and the second is downright scary. I want my President to respect science. But commenting online seems like a lot of work," Marcus says. "Besides, we don't know that drilling offshore will add that much carbon to the global atmosphere, and climate change won't really affect us in New York City."
And they smile at their sleeping angel.
Will they submit their comments online on the MMS page and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook, and other online sources?
Or will they buy up all the Greenzys, change their lightbulbs, and decide that's quite enough for this Earth Day?
Which action will you take?