Comment: Offshore wind power means better business, better beaches

Source: By Jackie Savitz, vice president, Oceana, The • Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The push by some politicians and the oil industry to expand offshore drilling to the Atlantic is the wrong way to create jobs and lower gas prices. In fact, offshore wind development off the East Coast could produce twice as many jobs and energy as offshore drilling while alleviating the risk of catastrophic oil spills.

Oceana’s recent report, Offshore Energy by the Numbers, An Economic Analysis of Offshore Drilling and Wind Energy in the Atlantic, considered the amount of economically recoverable oil and gas in the Atlantic and made conservative estimates of offshore wind development to compare these two activities. We found that offshore wind development in the Atlantic would produce roughly 91,000 more jobs and could generate enough energy to power over 115 million homes in the next 20 years, which is almost double the job creation and energy potential of Atlantic oil.

Besides generating more energy and for a more sustained period, offshore wind development also creates many more jobs. This is partly due to the tremendous potential of offshore wind and partly due to inflated hopes for offshore drilling. The promises of the oil and gas industry of jobs and economic benefits are based on unrealistic assumptions that ignore the associated costs and risks — risks that would be borne by coastal communities, not oil company executives. The amount of oil and gas resources that can be developed in the Atlantic is also inflated, since it counts on resources that are not profitable to develop. And after all that, Americans don’t get the benefit of the oil produced — it gets sold on the world market.Also in the crosshairs is the part of our economy that depends on fishing, tourism and coastal recreation. There are roughly 1.4 million jobs in East Coast communities and $95 billion in gross domestic product that depend on healthy ocean ecosystems. Offshore drilling would put some of these jobs at risk from spills, like the Deepwater Horizon disaster, not to mention the day-to-day leaks and other impacts that drilling creates. Our short documentary “Drill, Spill, Repeat” shows how an oil spill can harm a coastal community years after the accident occurs.

Whether you look at it from an economic angle or an energy angle, drilling in the Atlantic simply doesn’t add up. The Atlantic Ocean contains less than 4 percent of our nation’s oil and gas reserves. Even if we were to extract all of the economically recoverable oil and gas, that oil wouldn’t last five months and the gas would run out in 10, based on our current usage rates.

In that scenario, there would also be major impacts on marine life before any drilling even starts, because dynamite-like seismic blasts would be used to explore for oil and gas. According to government estimates, seismic blasting could cause as many as 138,000 injuries to marine mammals, and some of them could even be killed.

Little has been done to make offshore drilling safer or cleaner than it was when we watched helplessly as oil from the worst spill in U.S. history gushed into the ocean. In the three years following the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore drilling has led to more than 750 injuries, 10 deaths, almost 350 explosions and 11 spills of more than 50 barrels. Instead of working to find better ways to power our future, lawmakers are rushing to develop offshore oil and gas and missing the boat. Offshore wind gets us better business outcomes and better beaches. If the U.S. is to become energy independent, we need to learn the devastating lessons of past offshore drilling and speed the development of clean energy alternatives.