Columnists Ben Hellerstein and Johanna Neumann: Offshore drilling not worth the risk

  • In this June 9, 2010, photo, a worker uses a suction hose to remove oil washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon spill, in Belle Terre, La.  AP FILE PHOTO

  • In this April 10, 2008, photo, a North Atlantic right whale breaks the ocean surface off Provincetown in Cape Cod Bay. AP FILE PHOTO

Published: 2/6/2018 7:36:45 PM

What if you woke up one morning and heard that an oil well off Cape Cod had ruptured?

On Jan. 4, President Trump’s administration announced plans to open 90 percent of America’s coasts to leases for offshore drilling, including Georges Bank off the coast of Massachusetts. This plan would expose Massachusetts to the prospect of seismic testing and oil and gas drilling off our shores.

Drilling predictably leads to oil spills, which can be disastrous. In 2010, as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, eleven people lost their lives, thousands of marine mammals and birds are estimated to have perished, and states lost $23 billion in tourism-related dollars.

Why would we risk such a disaster?

Our coasts are a big part of what makes Massachusetts such a great place to live. Thousands of people visit the state’s beaches every year to spend time with their families, play in the waves and soak up the sun.

Some of Massachusetts’ most iconic landscapes are found along our coasts, from Crane Beach in Ipswich to Race Point in Provincetown.

Our beaches and coastal waters are also home to a stunning array of birds, fish and marine mammals, including the endangered North Atlantic right whale. Scientists estimate that there are fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales remaining.

Unlike many issues these days, opposition to this disastrous new drilling plan crosses party lines. Just a few years ago, former President Obama proposed opening up parts of the Atlantic, the Gulf and Alaska to expanded seismic testing and offshore drilling. Coastal business leaders, commercial fishing families and leaders from both parties convinced the administration that the oil was not worth the risk.

Now that our coasts are under threat again, bipartisan opposition to the new and expanded proposal is even stronger than it was a few years ago. Governors from Florida to New Hampshire and California to Washington have voiced their opposition to offshore drilling.

We agree that we can’t risk the threat of an oil disaster off the coast of Massachusetts.

And here’s the irony: The Trump Administration doesn’t disagree about the danger — just about which coastlines deserve protecting. A week after releasing the proposal, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced he was removing Florida from the leasing plan, saying that Florida is “unique” and its coasts deserve protection because the state is “heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”

Zinke’s decision to remove Florida raises some questions: Is Massachusetts’ coast any less important than Florida’s? Is our wildlife less worthy of protection? We certainly don’t think so.

All 11 of Massachusetts’ U.S. senators and representatives recently sent a letter voicing their opposition to offshore drilling. We applaud Sen. Edward Markey and Congressman Seth Moulton for leading this effort.

Gov. Charlie Baker could play a critical role in protecting Massachusetts from offshore drilling. While Baker has expressed opposition to drilling in the past, we need him to speak up more forcefully and frequently to protect our coasts. Sending a letter to Zinke with a formal request to withdraw Massachusetts from the drilling plan would be a good start.

Across Massachusetts, we must stand together to voice our opposition to this shortsighted and dangerous proposal. Our beautiful coastline and our way of life depend on it.

Ben Hellerstein is the state director for Environment Massachusetts based in Boston. Johanna Neumann is the donor development director for Environment Massachusetts based in Amherst.

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