Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

When I take open water swimmers to the shores of Huntington Beach, they are often surprised to see rigs and drills pumping oil along the shoreline and large structures visible between the Southern California coast and Catalina Island,” said Steven Munatones of Huntington Beach.

Lewis Pugh, the United Nations Patron of the Oceans, was recently swimming and bodysurfing in Huntington Beach and could barely believe his eyes. On one hand, he enjoyed the surf and conditions, but he was also surprised by all the oil drills along the coast.

But with the nickname and mascot of the local high school teams being an Oiler and a long history of oil drilling along the coast of Huntington Beach, drilling is part of the local lore and economy. On the other hand, with so many high-end hotels and retail outlets targeting the hospitality and tourism markets, there are significant local economic benefits by maintaining a beautiful coastline.

A major debate is shaping up between the environmentalists who want to maintain and protect nature as is and the Trump administration.

President Trump has been very clear in his goals to transform the United States from a net energy importer to a country built upon energy development and energy dominance. He is paving the way and shaping policies to increase production of oil, natural gas and coal within America’s domestic lands and water and increasing jobs in these markets.

With President Trump’s plans to open nearly all U.S. federal waters to offshore drilling activities, Huntington Beach and other coastal waters may be pocketed with many more rigs and drilling sites in the future.

In a new draft five-year program (2019-2024) for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf, the Department of the Interior outlined its plans to expand future oil and gas leasing to the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans, as well as the eastern Gulf of Mexico. This is the largest number of potential offshore lease sales ever proposed.

In response to the newly proposed plan, Oceana released the following statement:

This plan opens the floodgates to dirty and dangerous offshore drilling, threatening coastal economies that rely on clean and healthy oceans.

This radical offshore drilling free-for-all is a clear example of politics over people, ignoring widespread local and state opposition. Consider the West Coast, where all three governors are adamantly opposed to expanded offshore drilling. Or the Atlantic, where over 140 East Coast municipalities have publicly opposed offshore drilling activities. Along Florida’s Gulf Coast, there is a moratorium on offshore drilling until June 30, 2022, and the Department of Defense has made it clear they need uninhibited access to the area for training, free from oil and gas activities.

Past attempts to drill in the remote and unforgiving Arctic waters resulted in the abandoned drill rig Kulluk grounded near Kodiak Island while the crew were hoisted to safety. There is still extreme weather, no way to clean up an oil spill in sea ice, and very limited infrastructure to deal with any kind of emergency.

The Trump administration’s plan not only ignores the risky nature of dirty and dangerous drilling, but also the people and coastal businesses who would be most affected. The administration’s proposal would put large multi-national corporations ahead of coastal residents and healthy ocean-dependent economies.

Americans have seen the devastation that comes from offshore drilling. Seven years after the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon blowout, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, the Gulf is still recovering. Will we allow Florida’s white beaches or the popular and pristine Outer Banks to share a similar fate? What about the scenic Pacific coast or even remote Arctic waters?

Giving the oil industry unfettered access to our nation’s oceans is a recipe for disaster. From ocean views scattered with drilling platforms, to the industrialization of our coastal communities, to the unacceptable risk of more BP Deepwater Horizon-like disasters – expanding offshore drilling to new areas threatens thriving coastal economies and already thriving industries like tourism, recreation and fishing that rely on healthy oceans. According to the National Ocean Economics Program’s 2016 report, in U.S. coastal states, 2.2 million American jobs and $108.37 billion depend on healthy ocean ecosystems.”

The plan announced this week is the result of President Trump’s April 28th executive order on offshore energy, which directed Department of the Interior to encourage offshore drilling.

Munatones pointed out, “It will be interesting to see the long-term overall wishes and leanings of the American ocean swimming community. Talking with swimmers from coast to coast, there is a wide mix of opinions.

On one hand, most – if not all – ocean swimmers prefer to swim through pristine waters. Swimming through floating plastic bags and oil slicks is simply a bad alternative. On the other hand, other American ocean swimmers understand and support President Trump’s policies and position vis-a-vis offshore drilling – and are willing to trade-off pollution and increased risks of oil spills with energy dominance by American energy companies.”

To learn of Oceana’s position on this issue, visit here.

Note: “Drill, baby, drill!” was a 2008 Republican campaign slogan used at the 2008 Republican National Convention by former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, who was later elected Chairman of the Republican National Committee. The slogan expressed support for increased drilling for petroleum and gas as sources of additional energy and gained further prominence after it was used by Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin during the vice-presidential debate.

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