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In This Section
PDF May/June 2006
e-mail April 28, 2006
e-mail February 27, 2006


Moral Challenge, Tough Choices
Offshore Drilling Moratorium Threatened
Cool Cities Guide
Saving the Au Sable
Native Peoples, Club Unite
Sierra Club Insider
Who We Are
Tom Libby
Marty Peale
Yochi Zakai


Why the Endangered Species Act Works...
Sierra Club Kicks Off 'Reality TV'
Largest-Ever Mercury Study
First You Trek, Then You Organize
The (New and Improved) Sierra Club
The Structure of Leadership in the Sierra Club (pdf)
Who You Gonna Call? A Guide to Staff Resources
Introducing the Mentoring Program
Who We Are
Richard Sloan
Linda Ernst
Rod Hunter
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The Planet
Offshore Drilling Moratorium Threatened

by Tom Valtin

[Update: After the Planet went to press, word arrived that Virginia Governor Kaine had rejected the plan to open up the state’s coastal waters to drilling. While stopping short of an outright veto of S.B. 262, Kaine announced that he would send the bill back to the legislature stripped of language that would lift the offshore drilling moratorium. The move blunts the oil and gas industry offensive to open up more of our coasts to drilling, and is a significant a victory for the many thousands of Virginians—including hundreds of Sierra Club members—who spoke out against the drilling proposal.]


Less than a week after President Bush admitted in his State of the Union address that America was addicted to oil, his administration released a 5-year offshore drilling plan targeting the Virginia, Florida, and Alaska coasts. So much for kicking the habit.

For the past 25 years, there has been strong, bipartisan support for a moratorium on offshore drilling. In 1981, responding to public sentiment, Congress adopted the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Moratorium, which prevents the leasing of coastal waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and Alaska’s Bristol Bay for fossil fuel development.

Each year since then Congress has renewed the moratorium. In 1990, the first President Bush authored an additional level of protection deferring new leasing until 2002, which President Clinton extended to 2012. But these protections are now in danger of being weakened or overturned by the current Bush administration and its allies in Congress.

“Drilling off our coasts is not the way to achieve energy independence or bring down gas-pump and home heating prices,” says Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. “We don’t need to sacrifice our beaches and coastal waters to meet America’s energy needs.”

Tourism, commercial and sport fishing, and real estate generate billions of dollars of economic activity and millions of jobs in America’s coastal communities. And spills are more common than the drilling industry would have the public believe, as the 200,000-gallon crude oil spill just west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge this March attests. Between 1980 and 1999, three million gallons of oil spilled from offshore oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico—the equivalent of 400 gallons a day—while tens of thousands of pounds of mercury have been dumped around oil rigs in the Gulf.

Risky Business: Despite oil and gas industry rhetoric, greater efficiency and use of renewables will save more energy and money than would offshore drilling, while protecting America’s beaches and coastal waters.

Nevertheless, in February the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service released a 5-year OCS planning document that details future leasing and development on the mid-Atlantic coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska. Meanwhile, Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) introduced a plan to open up nearly four million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to drilling, and Representative John Peterson (R-Pa.) introduced a House bill to immediately repeal the OCS moratorium.

Fresh off a year of record-breaking profits, the oil and gas industry is taking aim first at Virginia. In March, the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill, S.B. 262, calling on Congress to authorize drilling off the Virginia coast. “The Assembly not only wrote off the bipartisan support that has kept the moratorium in place, it also disregarded the economic lifeblood that tourism pumps into the state,” says Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Director Michael Town. “Offshore drilling could turn our beaches and coastal waters into an industrial zone.”

The city of Virginia Beach alone attracts more than three million visitors each year, generating $700 million in tourist spending and providing some 11,000 jobs within the city. “We have too much to lose by allowing oil and gas companies to drill off our coast,” says Chesapeake Bay Group Chair Fred Adams. “The economy of the Tidewater region is based on tourism, retirees, and the military. The first two groups in particular come here for the environment. Any potential benefits of drilling are not commensurate with the risks involved.”

The Sierra Club has been pressuring Virginia Governor Tim Kaine to veto S.B. 262. Radio ads ran in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Richmond starting in mid-March, sponsored by the Club’s Virginia Chapter, the Virginia Beach Audubon Society, and the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. Chesapeake Bay Group activists distributed “Don’t Drill Our Coasts” bumper stickers and yard signs, and postcards asking the governor to veto S.B. 262. E-mail alerts and phonebanks followed, urging phone calls to the governor.

The event often cited as the impetus for the OCS Moratorium is the 1969 oil spill off Santa Barbara, California. A Union Oil Company platform six miles offshore suffered a blowout, and for eleven days, 200,000 gallons of crude oil spread into an 800-square-mile slick. Incoming tides spread thick tar over 35 miles of coastline, bringing with them the corpses of dead seals, dolphins, and some 4,000 birds. Fred Hartley, president of Union Oil, said at the time, “I am amazed at the publicity for the loss of a few birds.”

Earth Day was born the following spring.

 Sign the Sierra Club’s petition asking the Secretary of the Interior not to open our coasts to destructive oil and gas drilling: For more information, go to

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