Matt McClain On Surfrider Foundation’s Campaign To Stop Offshore Drilling

In 1981, Congress adopted the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Moratorium.  The moratorium prevents the leasing of coastal waters for the purpose of fossil fuel development. Every year since then, Congress has renewed the moratorium—that is, until recently.

On July 14th, 2008, President George Bush lifted the White House ban on offshore drilling, citing a need to wean America off its dependence on foreign oil.  Bush was then join by several notable members of congress to lift federal moratorium on offshore drilling.

In response, the Surfrider Foundation has embarked on a campaign called Not The Answer in opposition of the federal moratorium being lifted. Transworld Business caught up with Surfrider's Marketing and Communications Director Matt McClain in hopes to find out exactly what's at stake. Here's what he had to say:

Offshore drilling has obviously been a concern to environmentalists for years, and it seems like this initiative has really gained some steam in the past few weeks. Why Now? Why the new sense of urgency?

First we saw President Bush not renew the presidential moratorium on offshore drilling; he allowed that to lapse. Then shortly there after, we saw congress allow the congressional moratorium to lapse. These are pieces of legislation that date back to Bush's father, and had held up through several administrations, and received bipartisan support.

What people were surprised about is that longtime champions of the environment, like John McCain, all of a sudden were jumping on to the "Drill, Baby Drill" movement. So there were obviously some political motivations there, but there was also the hysteria over the presidential race combined with the fact that we had all-time high fuel and gas prices. So there wasn't a lot of opportunity to get the ground swell of support we're expecting to get right now.

The imperative of why we're fighting this now is that we're fighting to get these moratoriums back in place. That's just to get us back to zero, or back to where we were a year ago. Right now we're in a big hole, because the reality is that there's literally nothing stopping these oil companies from going out and putting oil rigs immediately off our coast!

The reason why there's been such an immediate push on this over the past few weeks is the fact that there's no regulation governing this. The Obama administration came, and Interior Secretary Salazar said he's going to take public comment and evaluate this and we're going to make the determination sometime after September. So we thought, that's great because we'll have all summer to ramp up on this. Then we found out just a few weeks ago that he has established four public hearings beginning on April 6 in New Orleans, then it jumps up to New Jersey the following week, it's in Alaska, and then it closes out on April 16 in San Francisco.

What Surfrider is doing is trying to rally the troops. We're sending a bunch of people to New Jersey for that hearing and we're actually taking a bus load of people to the hearing in San Francisco, and we're going to be doing a big demonstration up there. We're trying to get the same type of turnouts we got for the Toll Roads hearings. We want to do the same exact thing up there to make sure that they know the public is opposed to this.

Aside from being unsightly, what's the threat of offshore drilling?

It's more than just a visual blight. There was a spill in Santa Barbara in 1969. That spill decimated that coastline. There are no guarantees that this won't happen again and again and again. There's a lot of talk out there that we can extract oil and do it much more efficiently and safely than in the past, but if you look at all the disasters that we incur day-to-day—whether it's the Exxon Valdez, the tanker that hit the pier in san Francisco, the two plane crashes that we've had in the past few weeks—90-percent of all these catastrophes are due to human error. So you can have the best technology in the world, but the potential for disaster is always going to be there. It's absolutely not worth that risk. If we see an oil spill it's not just an environmental disaster. Can you imagine what would happen if Huntington Beach, Encinitas, Laguna Beach, and all the areas in between got covered in oil? What would that do to the local economy?

Isn't there an argument that we need the oil?

The reasons people think we need to do this is to alleviate our reliance on foreign oil and reduce the price of fuel. The first criticism is the phrase "foreign oil" because when you say foreign oil I think everyone in America has this image of a sheik out there with a turban on his head. The reality is, our number one trade partner for oil non-domestically is Canada. Our number two is Mexico. This notion of relying on foreign oil is a misnomer. Number two, the United States produces about eight percent of the world's oil, but we consume between a quarter and a third of the world's oil. So, there's no way we will ever be able to not rely on foreign oil unless we enact a national campaign of conservation, which is something that we advocate. But people aren't willing to do that yet.

How much oil is out there?

Under best-case scenario, there's only an eighteen-month supply of oil if we open up all areas of the country to drilling. So why would we ever have these things permanently off our coast for an eighteen-month supply of oil? That's ridiculous!

What coastlines are in jeopardy?

The entire Eastern seaboard, from the upper Atlantic all the way down to Florida, all of the gulf, and pretty much the entire length of California with the exception of the Monterey Bay sanctuary.

What are Surfirder's plans after these hearing take place?

For the rest of the summer, we want to get as many people to write in as possible. Like we did with the Toll roads, and let them know that we want these moratoriums reinstated. Assuming best-case scenario that we get these moratoriums reinstated, then we shift gears into a long term campaign and try and figure out how to get these other wells out of the water. That's  a much longer process. Right now the immediate concern is getting us back to where we were a year ago.

Check out noththeanswer.org for more information on the campaign.