McCain Ignores the Facts on Hurricanes and Oil Drilling

by Melanie Duchin

September 19, 2008

John McCain consistently and falsely says that offshore oil drilling is safe, and that drill rigs have withstood Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike without any significant damage or oil spills.  The facts tell a very different story.

Most recently, Hurricane Ike barreled through the Gulf of Mexico. According to the Minerals Management Service, as of September 15, 2008, 28 of the 3,800 offshore oil and gas production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico had been destroyed, and several other platforms were significantly damaged. On September 16, the oil drilling company Rowan announced one of its drill rigs was missing, and that it had likely capsized and sunk due to Hurricane Ike.  

Yet on September 17 McCain stated he’d visited an oil rig in the Gulf, it survived the hurricane, it was safe and sound, and fish were swimming all around it. Clearly McCain visited a rig that escaped damage, but it’s a tremendous disservice to spin this visit in a way that leads people to believe there was no damage.

It’s not the first time McCain lied about the impact of hurricanes on oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. In June, McCain said, “As for offshore drilling, it’s safe enough these days that not even Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage from the battered rigs off the coasts of New Orleans and Houston.” Yet the US Coast Guard reported that there were over 9 million gallons of oil released from six major and five medium spills (for comparison’s sake, the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil), and the Minerals Management service reported that Hurricane Rita destroyed 46 platforms and damaged 20 others, while Hurricane Rita destroyed 69 platforms and damaged 32 others.

Not so insignificant, is it?

Now, to be fair, the 9 million gallons spilled as a result of Katrina and Rita were not spilled from offshore rigs. The oil was spilled from onshore tanks and pipelines that failed or ruptured. However, it’s not possible to drill offshore in the Gulf without an extensive network of tanks, pipelines, refineries and other infrastructure. Just as it’s not possible to talk about hurricane damage to oil industry infrastructure without including onshore damage.

More offshore oil drilling will only lead to more oil spills, pollution and global warming. And global warming is the very thing that supercharges storms like Katrina, Rita and Ike, which in turn causes major oil spills and extensive damage to oil industry infrastructure. It’s a vicious cycle that any Senator should approach with true solutions to global warming and this country’s energy crisis: energy efficiency so that we get more out of every drop of oil, and a new vision for US energy that relies on renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind and phases out addiction to oil.

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