By Senator Edward J. Markey (D- MA)
This week, a court ruling forced the Trump Administration to put its plan to massively expand offshore drilling for oil and gas on hold. The Trump Interior Department’s record is one of blatant disregard for the ocean’s living marine resources and the people and coastal economies that depend upon them. The Massachusetts maritime economy—including tourism, fishing, and transportation—generated more than $17 billion and supported 136,000 jobs in 2015 alone, according to the Public Policy Center at UMass Dartmouth. If the Atlantic is opened to drilling, New England’s vital industries would be in direct danger of environmental disaster
At the same time as the Trump administration has had to delay its offshore drilling leasing plan, it continues to move forward in issuing permits for oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. These permits allow oil and gas companies to use seismic air gun blasting, which is incredibly disruptive to fish and marine mammals. The piercing sounds that bounce off the ocean floor can harm or even kill whales and other marine mammals. At a hearing last month, my colleague in the House, Representative Joe Cunningham, sounded a bull horn and then told the witness, the Assistant Administrator for fisheries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that the sound emitted by the seismic ships is 1,600 times louder than the shrieking bull horn.
Seismic blasting has been shown to harm a wide variety of economically and ecologically important species, from tiny plankton to large whales. Underwater seismic air gun blasting for oil and gas poses a significant threat to marine life and coastal economies. It threatens iconic species like the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, and it sets up the threat of an even more devastating oil spill. In addition, the results of the seismic testing activities will not be made available to the public, preventing coastal communities from conducting any cost-benefit analyses regarding how offshore oil and gas development will affect their economies.
Massachusetts fishermen have raised their voices against the Trump administration’s decision to allow seismic air gun blasting in the Atlantic on the road to handing over our coastlines to Big Oil. Angela Sanfilippo, President of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association, decried the action, saying, “Fishermen have made great sacrifices to protect fish stocks and here we go with something that will harm the marine habitat and the marine environment. We as fish people know that these activities are harmful to fish, marine mammals and humans.” Opening up the Atlantic coast to oil drilling and seismic air gun testing has been widely opposed by fishing, tourism, and environmental groups up and down the East Coast, who recognize the harm to marine life from seismic blasting, the potentially catastrophic damage from an oil spill, and the impacts of fossil fuel emissions on the planet that could result. This opposition is bipartisan and extends to every level of government from Members of Congress to state and local governments to businesses. But none of that seems to matter to this president.
Make no mistake, the Trump administration is going to continue to pursue opening the waters off of Massachusetts and the entire East Coast to oil and gas drilling if they have the opportunity. In the meantime, they are willing to let the extremely harmful preparation for drilling continue.
But it gets worse. The Western Gulf of Mexico is replete with oil and gas rigs. Despite the lingering damage that the Deepwater Horizon explosion caused to the Gulf of Mexico, the Trump administration also announced plans this week to gut safety requirements for offshore drilling by revising the offshore drilling Well Control Rule. This rule was put in place by the Interior Department in the wake of the BP disaster to help prevent another spill. The Trump administration’s rollback limits the independent third-party oversight of key safety components that are essential to safe drilling operations and undoes efforts made after the Deepwater Horizon disaster to reduce the risk of environmental disaster. The Congressional investigations into the 2010 spill that killed 11 workers helped lead to the implementation of critical safety requirements for offshore drilling. Now, the Department of Interior is cutting 20 percent of the original rule, making current and future drilling in the Gulf of Mexico that even more dangerous.
President Trump’s rollback of safety requirements is a recipe for drilling disaster. Our workers, marine ecosystems, and coastal economies should not be put at risk from oil spills or drilling. Last month marked nine years since the BP oil spill, the worst environmental disaster in American history. But instead of commemorating that tragic anniversary by preserving the rules that help prevent future offshore drilling injuries, deaths, and devastating spills, it is preserving the profits of oil companies that only value speed over safety.
Congress should take action to prevent another Deepwater Horizon tragedy. In April 2018, I co-sponsored the Clean Coasts Act (S. 2720), which would codify offshore drilling safety measures, including the Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule and the Arctic Drilling Rule. We cannot risk another oil spill that would devastate Massachusetts’ economy and our unique environment. Georges Bank should not become Exxon’s bank. Offshore oil and gas drilling would threaten Massachusetts’ fishing and tourism industry, even as we currently export nearly 3 million barrels of U.S. oil every day. We enjoy some of the most beautiful beaches and coastline in the world. We must preserve them, which is why I will continue to fight the Trump administration every step of the way to protect our waters off New England and all our coasts from Big Oil.
Edward J. Markey has represented Massachusetts in the United States Senate since 2013. He is the lead Senate sponsor of the Green New Deal Resolution. And he is a loyal #FriendofthePlanet!