Oil Spill Spreads Doubt on Obama's Offshore Drilling Plan

As oil slick approaches coast, why increase the threat?

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The latest news reports suggest the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that sunk earlier this month is much worse than anticipated. The oil slick, which is now the size of West Virginia and getting bigger by the day, could hit Louisiana’s coastline by this weekend. Experts say the oil continues to leak at a rate of about 5,000 barrels per day, more than five times original estimates. The Coast Guard’s plan to ignite the oil slick and burn most of it away isn’t going as planned as winds have limited their ability. The White House has declared this a spill "of national significance."

But just a month ago, the Obama adminsitration announced plans to open new areas off the East Coast to more offshore oil drilling, and also upheld Bush-era leases in almost 2.8 million acres of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean. The announcement allows exploration drilling to move forward starting as early as this summer. As we and many other groups have said in the past, a catastrophic oil spill in the icy, remote waters of the Arctic would be an emergency beyond any we’ve ever seen.

No technology currently exists to clean up oil spills in the harsh Arctic Ocean environment. This area, home to whales, polar bears, eiders and at least 98 species of fish, is a sensitive and thriving ecosystem. An oil spill would cause untold harms.

President Obama’s decision on offshore drilling came just weeks before the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A few days still remain to tell the Department of Interior that offshore oil drilling just isn’t a good idea. They need to follow sound science and put a time out on offshore drilling until we know the full impacts of what oil spills in the Arctic could mean to such a sensitive region.

Tell these regulators that we need renewable energy development that moves us away from a reliance on oil and towards a clean energy future.

Jared was the head coach of Earthjustice's advocacy campaign team from 2004 to 2014.