6 Years After BP Disaster, Movement Grows Against Gulf Offshore Drilling

by Mary Nicol

April 25, 2016

Gulf communities are still reeling from the devastating impacts of the BP disaster, which began unfolding six years ago on April 20, 2010. For some unfathomable reason, the federal government chose the sixth anniversary of this disaster to hold hearings asking these same communities for input on opening up even more areas of the Gulf to dangerous offshore oil drilling.

Credit: Mary Nicol/Greenpeace

I traveled to New Orleans and Houston to attend the hearings and stand in solidarity with the beautiful and growing movement of communities saying “Enough is enough!” Members of those communities are demanding that all fossil fuel leases in the Gulf be taken out of the Federal 2017-2022 Oil and Gas leasing program — which would prevent any new drilling for the next five years.

The hearing in the New Orleans area happened on Monday. Security was tight. Last month, hundreds of Gulf residents charged into the Superdome to interrupt a federal auction giving away public lands and waters to oil and gas companies. So this time, the hearing was moved outside of the city to a difficult-to-reach hotel near the airport. Judging by the police presence and barricades surrounding the hotel, you would have thought a gathering of world leaders was happening inside.

Unwavering, dozens of Gulf residents rallied outside of the hotel to connect and share their stories of how Gulf drilling impacts them.  As I headed into the hotel with one group, a police officer told us that anyone who brought out a sign in the room would be sent to jail.

People in the Gulf are fed up with being ignored by a federal government who consistently caters to the oil industry’s demands over their own. So a few of them held a speak-out in the middle of the room, demanding to not be ignored anymore.

For the rest of the hearing, Gulf residents spoke directly with Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) policy-makers and scientists to insist that Gulf oil be kept under the ocean. Community members were able to communicate directly with BOEM’s Director, Abigail Hopper. They relayed their vision for how to continue being an energy-producing hub for the nation by investing in clean, renewable, and sustainable energy infrastructure instead of dirty fossil fuels.

On Wednesday, I was in Houston to join communities there who are also organizing around the BOEM hearings. The irony of the date was not lost on anybody. But trust me, nobody found it funny that the federal government was hosting a hearing about more oil and gas drilling on the anniversary of the BP disaster — and as Houston was under siege from historic floods, which are only predicted to increase as the planet continues to warm.

After a rally to raise awareness outside of the hotel where the hearing was being held, about 40 of us went inside to speak directly with BOEM staff. We wanted to make sure that they were very aware that concerned communities aren’t going to sit idly by as the government continues to sacrifice Gulf cultures and communities for an energy source the country doesn’t want anymore. To make sure their message was heard loud and clear, some people from the community took the microphone at the hearing for a direct communication.

At both hearings, BOEM staff remarked how both the New Orleans and Houston hearings had a much larger turnout than usual. The visionaries I was humbled to stand with this week know that it will be a tough battle to reach the just transition they are demanding, but they are filled with love in their hearts for the workers employed by the industry, for those most impacted by rising seas and the devastating impacts of drilling, and for the cultures of the Gulf. That love is an unstoppable force — and far more powerful than the oil companies could ever be.

Tomorrow, the government will be holding another public hearing on these drilling plans — which could open up parts of the Arctic as well as the Gulf to offshore drilling — in Washington, DC. You don’t have to attend a hearing to be heard, however: Stand in solidarity with residents of the Gulf and Alaska by making a public comment demanding “No new leases!” for offshore drilling.

Mary Nicol

By Mary Nicol

Mary is a Senior Campaigner who supports movement work to defend communities and the climate from extractive industries.

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