Diane Lane: It’s time for Congress to finally protect our oceans from offshore drilling
The author, actress and environmental activist Diane Lane, in 2018. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
By Diane Lane
September 11, 2019 at 6:51 p.m. EDT
Diane Lane is an actress and environmental activist.
In 2017, the “Vineyard Wind 1” project off the coast of Massachusetts was submitted for federal approval to become the nation’s first major offshore wind project. Its 84 turbines could replace an estimated 1.6 million tons of carbon emissions annually, powering more than 400,000 homes and businesses. It remains the U.S. model of renewable energy.
But after months of studies and public comments, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, charged with seeking both economically and environmentally responsible offshore energy solutions, abruptly delayed the Vineyard Wind project last month, pending a “more robust” review.
The administration continues to make its priorities clear: It has attempted to open more than 90 percent of U.S. federal waters to rapacious offshore drilling — including the largest number of oil lease sales ever proposed. And though that executive order has been paused, the administration continues to fast-track permits for the highly controversial “mapping process” known as seismic blasting, which could harass ocean life and run roughshod over the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The assaults on our oceans have grown more brazen; and they can be traced to Congress giving a pass to Big Oil and its deep pockets for decades. It’s time lawmakers finally redeem themselves and act to protect our oceans.
Encouragingly, lawmakers in the House took responsibility Wednesday, passing the Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act and the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act, which would ban expanded offshore drilling and gas leasing off the Atlantic, Pacific and Eastern Gulf coasts.
The author, actress and environmental activist Diane Lane, in 2018. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)Now it’s the Senate’s turn. They would be well-served to see that protecting our oceans is not a partisan matter.
Seismic blasting is akin to detonating underwater dynamite audible up to 2,500-mile distances, packing enough energy to obliterate giant swaths of zooplankton and krill larvae, the very base of the food web. The cruel practice can last months and disrupts the sensitive hearing of marine mammals who use sound to locate food, mate and avoid predators.
Research shows that seismic blasting could decrease catch rates of certain species of fish by almost 80 percent, while any offshore drilling could threaten generations of coastal economies, including more than 2.6 million jobs and nearly $180 billion in gross domestic product.
Oil extraction not only menaces our life-giving oceans; it also then pollutes them with more than 8 million tons of plastic waste, a byproduct of petroleum and natural gas, every year — a full cycle of ruination.
If you’re finding it hard to wean yourself from plastic, you’re not alone. Its ubiquity continues to grow. Just one plant is expected to produce 1.6 million tons of virgin plastic per year. The more plastic we produce, the more it ends up in the ocean, where it penetrates the ecosystem’s food chain. We now know that plastic is detectablein the fish we eat, a protein source that billions depend on.
These ghastly realities should awaken exponential investment in U.S. innovation through renewable technologies such as sustainable wind and solar energy capture and distribution. Our true “energy independence” will be determined by maturing away from fossil fuel’s damaging extraction technologies.
Even the administration seems to understand this. Not long ago I met with the acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Walter Cruickshank, on behalf of the environmental advocacy group Oceana, who told me offshore wind was the best plan for clean sustainable energy. As a parting gift, I was given a map produced by BOEM of several proposed offshore wind sites — including Vineyard Wind.
“Red” and “blue” states alike oppose new offshore drilling — that includes every East and West Coast governor, and most important, bipartisan alliances forged throughout the United States representing tens of thousands of local businesses and half a million fishing families.
I’m hopeful that capitalism, science and respect for nature can find common ground, pass these critical pieces of legislation and prove that we’ve truly learned from the past horrors of offshore drilling disasters. Perhaps our shared and beloved oceans will finally turn our political conversations purple.