In January 2015, the Obama administration announced plans to allow, for the first time in more than 30 years, offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. As part of this, the government is also allowing the use of seismic airguns to explore for oil. Both seismic exploration and oil drilling could have devastating effects on the Atlantic Ocean ecosystem and tourist economies on the east coast. Seismic airguns fire incredibly loud blasts of compressed air that are one of the loudest man made sounds in the ocean, and are repeated every ten seconds for days to months on end. These blasts pose a major threat to marine life, as the profound level of noise damages hearing and disrupts navigation and communication.
The devastating BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico provides a clear example of the impact that an oil spill in the Atlantic Ocean would have on the Eastern seaboard. In addition to causing immense damage to the marine and coastal environment, an oil spill would desecrate areas beloved by millions along the East Coast. Nearly 1.4 million jobs and $95 billion in gross domestic product rely on tourism and recreation along the east coast. All of this would be put at risk by oil drilling in the Atlantic. Waterkeeper Alliance seeks to stop seismic blasting and oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean through Waterkeeper member engagement in grassroots mobilization, public education campaigns and litigation.
The Arctic is a particularly fragile ecosystem, and the U.S. government has predicted a 75% chance that there will be a large oil spill in the lifetime of oil projects in the Arctic. The U.S. allowed Shell to explore for oil reserves in the Arctic despite Shell’s poor track record of safety. Luckily, after a groundswelling of opposition to drilling in the Arctic, Shell announced in September 2015 that it would be abandoning its plans, based on predictions that it would not be profitable. Following this, the U.S. Department of the Interior canceled all remaining oil and gas leases in the Arctic through 2017. However, there is still a chance that the Arctic could be reopened to drilling in 2017.
New oil and gas wells, including many new fracking operations, have increased across the headwaters region of the Colorado Plateau, resulting in pollution that is poisoning both the lands and waters of priceless desert watersheds. To make matters worse, multinational corporations are poised to strip mine hundreds of thousands of acres of federal lands in Utah’s deserts for tar sands and oil shale, creating a sprawling industrial landscape in watersheds that threatens productive habitat for myriad fish and wildlife species.
Explosive crude oil is being transported in trains traveling through communities and over waterways in increasing quantities. There was a 5,000 percent increase in the amount of oil trains between 2008 and 2014. Oil trains are vastly under-regulated, carrying oil in outdated tank cars and on inadequate infrastructure, and every derailment poses a serious risk to communities and waterways from oil spills, fires, and explosions. Oil and railroad companies should not be allowed to turn a profit by gambling on the health of waterways and communities. Waterkeeper Alliance is fighting for oil train regulations that actually protect communities and the environment through litigation and assisting Waterkeepers in coordinated advocacy. We released a report, Deadly Crossing: Neglected Bridges and Exploding Oil Trains, which focuses on the potentially neglected condition of rail bridges carrying oil trains, and the lack of government oversight on rail bridge safety.
Since Hurricane Ivan destroyed Taylor Energy’s oil wells in 2004, they have leaked thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. When Waterkeeper Alliance brought a lawsuit against Taylor Energy in 2012, despite the spill going on for nearly a decade, the public was largely unaware of its existence or what, if anything was being done to stop it.
In September 2015, along with Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, and the National Environmental Law Center, Waterkeeper Alliance signed a settlement agreement with Taylor Energy, effectively ending the three-year lawsuit intended to lift the veil of secrecy on an oil leak at Taylor Energy’s wells in the Gulf of Mexico. For the first time in more than a decade, Taylor Energy will publicly disclose what it has done to stop the oil leak, will no longer broadly object to the release of information about the leak and efforts to contain it. This settlement will make it easier for the public to obtain information about the oil leak. All of the documents that Waterkeeper Alliance has obtained access to as a result of this litigation are available here. This settlement in no way impacts Taylor Energy’s continuing obligation to address the oil leak.