Why we should not begin offshore exploration for oil and gas opinions fairfaxtimes.com a gas station


General McInerney’s letter ignores one of the biggest national security threats we face: climate change. Offshore exploration for oil and gas will inevitably lead to more fossil fuel production, which will accelerate greenhouse gas emissions at the very moment when we need to drastically curtail them in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Leaving aside climate change for a moment, I would like to directly address General McInerney’s puzzling assertion that there is no cause for alarm over opening offshore waters for exploration because such exploration may not ultimately lead to development of the oil and gas deposits that are found.

First, offshore exploration is expensive, and it is hard to imagine that oil companies, after investing in exploration and finding and claiming deposits, would not then hire a brigade of lobbyists to press Congress to open those areas for drilling.

Second, offshore undersea oil and gas exploration is not a benign activity. The process involves powerful transducers that produce incredibly powerful sonic booms that are fired off at 10-12 second intervals, 24 hours a day for years. The explosions can be detected across oceans and damage the hearing of whales, dolphins and porpoises, which depend on hearing for communication and navigation.

Returning to climate change, it is now well established that the world must begin immediately and urgently to transition most away from fossil fuel energy to clean and renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear. This must be done if we are to avoid the rapidly approaching and critical 2 degree increase in temperature that risks a climate catastrophe for the world before the end of this century. To avoid crossing that threshold, energy economists have calculated that four-fifths of known land fossil fuel deposits must be left in the ground. Thus, the worst thing we could do would be to find and exploit new sources of harmful fossil fuels off our shores.

Our military leaders have known for over a decade that we must reduce fossil fuel emissions to protect our national security. Following a declaration by President George W. Bush in his 2006 state of the nation address that to protect our national security we must break our addiction to oil, one of our nation’s prestigious research centers, the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), undertook a study of climate change. The CNA Military Advisory Board, an elite group of retired three- and four-star flag and general officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, oversaw the effort. Their 2007 report predicted that man-made climate change would cause disasters, disease outbreaks and other instability that would disrupt our way of life, jeopardize our military preparedness and act as a “threat multiplier” in the world’s most volatile regions. It went on to say that the U.S. should quickly begin to reduce our emissions and lead an international effort to encourage other nations to do the same.

Eleven years later, we have yet to begin reducing our emissions, and we are already seeing the consequences. Last year’s climate-related disasters, including hurricanes, wildfires, mudslides and drought, cost taxpayers some $300 billion. These climate disasters diverted our military from critical scheduled military training and readiness to prepare for combat, as they assisted with the massive relief efforts.

I share General McInerney’s concern for Virginians living in poverty and their struggle to pay energy bills. The best solution to that problem is to provide good jobs. Offshore drilling is not the answer there either, as it creates few jobs. There is, however, an energy policy that would grow the economy, and that is to put a fee on fossil fuels and return the revenue to citizens as a monthly dividend. Progressive and conservative economists agree that such an approach would rapidly reduce emissions while fully compensating low- and middle-income households for any increase in their cost of living and creating millions of jobs.