October 21, 2011
Thomas Pyle, The Miami Herald
By the dawn of 2012, Spanish company Repsol will be well into its oil-drilling endeavor a mere 60 miles south of Key West. The move, an effort to capture some of the five billion to 20 billion barrels of oil believed to lie in the coastal waters, has been brewing against the backdrop of near-silence from the environmental activist contingent in the United States. What we have here is a green group double standard on energy production.
The Scarabeo 9 rig will explore for oil 65 miles closer to the Florida coast than any American oil company is allowed to drill.
We must remember that this is nothing new, and it’s in line with President Obama’s posturing in Brazil. In fact, he quipped that he wants America to be Brazil’s best costumer when it starts producing oil — and soon we will be able to buy oil from Cuba.
The Cuban project will involve drilling six wells not far from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and from Biscayne and Everglades national parks. Such activity sanctioned by the U.S. government would have created a maelstrom within the enviro lobby; yet there has been scant concern voiced about the potential ramifications of an oil spill on these protected lands and nearby wildlife.
In contrast, “green” groups couldn’t wait to slam the Obama administration’s decision last year to officially end the Gulf of Mexico drilling moratorium.
On a Democracy Now! radio segment last year about the announcement, Brendan Cummings, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “It’s horribly disappointing. Rather than instituting a fundamental change of the failed energy policies of the Bush-Cheney era, [this] is Obama essentially embracing wholeheartedly the policy … that we can really drill our way to energy independence.”
Greenpeace director Phil Radford responded to the news with a sardonic “Is this President Obama’s clean energy plan or Palin’s drill, baby, drill campaign?”
Representatives from some groups have even praised Cuba’s imminent plans to drill.
Dan Whittle, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund, told TIME last month that “the Cubans seem very motivated to do [the drilling] right. They understand an accident would only set back their plans and put their foreign partners under pressure to hold off investing.” Former Environmental Protection Agency administrator William Reilly is pushing for U.S.-Cuba cooperation in the event of a spill, calling such a move “a no-brainer for the U.S.” despite our decades-old embargo with what is inarguably a tyrannical, anti-American regime.
And earlier this year, environment and sustainability expert Jorge Piñón, a visiting research fellow at Florida International University in Miami, argued against legislation proposed by Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan to block Cuba’s drilling. Piñón was quoted as saying: “The question to ask is, ‘Does the company that’s going to drill have a respectable record of environmental stewardship and does it have the knowhow?’ And the answer is yes. I’m not concerned with Cuba drilling for oil, I’m very concerned we don’t have an emergency plan in case of a spill.’’
Unsurprisingly, insouciance about the project is also present in the public sector. Just four months after the Gulf oil spill, a State Department spokeswoman told The Miami Herald that, with regard to the drilling, the federal government assumed there would be “adequate safeguards in place” to prevent blowouts. Shortly thereafter New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson called the drilling a “potential inroad” for ending the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba.
And although the Cuban wells will be deeper than the ill-fated Macondo well, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director Michael Bromwich said last month that the U.S. government had spoken with Repsol about its drilling plans but hadn’t “made a deal to ensure that work meets the same standards it would if it were in U.S. waters,” according to a Houston Chronicle story last April.
We can only imagine the uproar if either of these statements had been the Obama administration’s response to American oil companies’ permit applications following the Gulf spill last year. It’s time we called “green” groups out on their double standards.
Thomas J. Pyle is the president of the Institute for Energy Research.