Obama Administration Proposes Opening Atlantic Coast to Offshore Drilling
The Obama administration announced its five-year plan for offshore drilling yesterday, proposing to open a section of the continental shelf from Virginia to Georgia that has been off-limits to drilling for three decades. And although the Interior Department moved to protect parts of the environmentally sensitive Chukchi and Beaufort seas off Alaska, large swaths of the fragile Arctic will remain open for leasing, as well.
Despite the fact that a spill off the Eastern Seaboard could wreak economic and environmental havoc, energy companies and some state governments have long pushed the federal government to open the Atlantic. By agreeing, President Obama is taking a major risk, especially given his messy history on this issue.
In 2007, then-Senator Obama said, “[O]il rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced.” In 2010, the president again endorsed offshore drilling that is “environmentally sound and not risky.” You probably know what happened next. The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in April 2010 and sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, causing the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. So much for all that advanced technology.
After 200 million gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf, the president promised he would “make sure that a catastrophe like this never happens again.” He also said, “We need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling.”
So far he and Congress have come up seriously short. Elizabeth Birnbaum, who oversaw government regulation of the offshore drilling industry at the time of the Gulf spill, wrote in April that she “would never have imagined so little action would be taken to prevent something like this from happening again.” According to Birnbaum, the administration hasn’t even implemented most of the recommendations by its own experts to prevent future disasters. Even the regulation of blowout preventers—the failsafe that is supposed to avert a massive spill when everything else goes wrong—has changed very little since the Deepwater Horizon’s floundered in 2010.
With so little progress made, it’s only a matter of time until another major spill hits. A 2012 explosion on a Black Elk Energy offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico killed three workers. In July 2013, another Gulf rig failed, spilling natural gas for two days and catching fire in the process.
The wreck of the Kulluk on the Alaska coast on New Year’s Eve two years ago might be the clearest evidence that drilling technology is still nowhere near safe enough to prevent major accidents offshore. The Kulluk was state-of-the-art, with many safety features, including a massive steel hull and a 12-point anchor system that was supposed to hold the rig in place for 24 hours in 18-foot waves. (It even had a sauna.) But the rig was no match for the demanding Arctic environment, and it ran aground in a storm.
One problem is that drilling technology is developing so much faster than safety technology. Robert Bea, a civil engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, with more than 50 years of experience in offshore drilling, calls this phenomenon “risk creep.”
“When I began in the 1960s, a good well produced a couple of hundred of barrels of oil per day,” he says. “Today, the ultra-deep wells in the Gulf of Mexico can produce 100,000 to 200,000 barrels per day. In the United States, our safeguards have not kept pace with the technological wizardry we now have in production.”
Bea says some other countries (namely the United Kingdom and Norway) have moved more deliberately and thoughtfully in offshore drilling safety as production increased. In his view, neither the general public nor U.S. regulators fully appreciate the risks or carefully match safeguards to those risks.
The federal liability limit on offshore oil spills is a perfect example of risk creep.
“There is a provision in that law that sets the strict liability cap at $75 million for an offshore spill,” says Sarah Chasis, senior attorney in the oceans program at Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes Earthwire). “That’s totally inadequate. Tourism, recreation and fishing along the Atlantic coast—which would be put at risk by a spill—generate something like $40 billion annually and employ nearly a million people.”
The 2010 disaster—which came only weeks after President Obama assured us that everything was fine—places a special burden on the administration to convince the public that things have changed. That’s hard to believe when safety experts are telling us they haven’t. What’s more likely is that the president is using the Atlantic coast as an olive branch to energy companies. And if his history with offshore drilling has taught us anything, this is a huge mistake.
“The 2010 spill affected over 1,000 miles of coastline,” says Chasis. “If you line that up with the East Coast, it could go from Savannah to Boston.”
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By Gwen Ranniger
Fertility issues are on the rise, and new literature points to ways that your environment may be part of the problem. We've rounded up some changes you can make in your life to promote a healthy reproductive system.
Infertility and Environmental Health: The Facts<ul> <li>Sperm count is declining steeply, significantly, and continuously in Western countries, with no signs of tapering off. Erectile dysfunction is on the rise, and women are facing increasing rates of miscarriage and difficulty conceiving.</li><li>Why? A huge factor is our environmental health. Hormones (particularly testosterone and estrogen) are what make reproductive function possible, and our hormones are increasingly being negatively affected by harmful, endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonplace in the modern world—in our homes, foods, and lifestyles.</li></ul>
What You Can Do About It<p>It should be noted that infertility can be caused by any number of factors, including medical conditions that cannot be solved with a simple change at home.</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are struggling with infertility, our hearts and sympathies are with you. Your pain is validated and we hope you receive answers to your struggles.</em></p><p>Read on to discover our tips to restore or improve reproductive health by removing harmful habits and chemicals from your environment.</p>
Edit Your Health<ul><li>If you smoke, quit! Smoking is toxic, period. If someone in your household smokes, urge them to quit or institute a no-smoking ban in the house. It is just as important to avoid secondhand smoke.</li><li>Maintain a healthy weight. Make sure your caloric intake is right for your body and strive for moderate exercise.</li><li>Eat cleanly! Focus on whole foods and less processed meals and snacks. Studies have found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet is linked to increased fertility.</li><li>Minimize negative/constant stress—or find ways to manage it. Hobbies such as meditation or yoga that encourage practiced breathing are great options to reduce the physical toll of stress.</li></ul>
Edit Your Home<p>We spend a lot of time in our homes—and care that what we bring into them will not harm us. You may not be aware that many commonly found household items are sources of harmful, endocrine-disrupting compounds. Read on to find steps you can take—and replacements you should make—in your home.</p><p><strong>In the Kitchen</strong></p><ul> <li>Buy organic, fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/clean-grocery-shopping-guide-2648563801.html" target="_blank">Read our grocery shopping guide for more tips about food.</a></li><li>Switch to glass, ceramics, or stainless steel for food storage: plastics often contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that affect fertility. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/bpa-pollution-2645493129.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Learn more about the dangers of plastic here.</a></li><li>Ban plastic from the microwave. If you have a plastic splatter cover, use paper towel, parchment paper, or an upside-down plate instead.</li><li>Upgrade your cookware: non-stick may make life easier, but it is made with unsafe chemical compounds that seep into your food. Cast-iron and stainless steel are great alternatives.</li><li>Filter tap water. Glass filter pitchers are an inexpensive solution; if you want to invest you may opt for an under-the-sink filter.</li><li>Check your cleaning products—many mainstream products are full of unsafe chemicals. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Check out our guide to safe cleaning products for more info</a>.</li></ul><p><strong>In the Bathroom </strong></p><ul> <li>Check the labels on your bathroom products: <em>fragrance-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free</em> and organic labels are all great signs. You can also scan the ingredients lists for red-flag chemicals such as: triclosan, parabens, and dibutyl phthalate. Use the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/" target="_blank">EWG Skin Deep database</a> to vet your personal products.</li><li>Ditch the vinyl shower curtain—that new shower curtain smell is chemical-off gassing. Choose a cotton or linen based curtain instead.</li><li>Banish air fresheners—use natural fresheners (an open window, baking soda, essential oils) instead.</li></ul><p><strong>Everywhere Else</strong></p><ul><li>Remove wall-to-wall carpet. If you've been considering wood or tile, here's your sign: many synthetic carpets can emit harmful chemicals for years. If you want a rug, choose wool or plant materials such as jute or sisal.</li><li>Prevent dust build-up. Dust can absorb chemicals in the air and keep them lingering in your home. Vacuum rugs and wipe furniture, trim, windowsills, fans, TVs, etc. Make sure to have a window open while you're cleaning!</li><li>Leave shoes at the door! When you wear your shoes throughout the house, you're tracking in all kinds of chemicals. If you like wearing shoes inside, consider a dedicated pair of "indoor shoes" or slippers.</li><li>Clean out your closet—use cedar chips or lavender sachets instead of mothballs, and use "green" dry-cleaning services over traditional methods. If that isn't possible, let the clothes air out outside or in your garage for a day before putting them back in your closet.</li><li>Say no to plastic bags!</li><li>We asked 22 endocrinologists what products they use - and steer clear of—in their homes. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/nontoxic-products-2648564261.html" target="_blank">Check out their responses here</a>.</li></ul>
Learn More<ul><li>For more information and action steps, be sure to check out <em>Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race</em> by EHS adjunct scientist Shanna Swan, PhD: <a href="https://www.shannaswan.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">available for purchase here.</a></li><li><a href="https://www.ehn.org/st/Subscribe_to_Above_The_Fold" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sign up for our Above the Fold Newsletter </a>to stay up to date about impacts on the environment and your health.</li></ul>
The irony hit Katherine Kehrli, the associate dean of Seattle Culinary Academy, when one of the COVID-19 pandemic's successive waves of closures flattened restaurants: Many of her culinary students were themselves food insecure. She saw cooks, bakers, and chefs-in-training lose the often-multiple jobs that they needed simply to eat.