Offshore Oil – The Next Keystone

Offshore Oil – The Next Keystone

By guest blogger David Helvarg, Author and Environmental Activist


So what do conservative Congressmen Curt Clawson of Florida and Mark Sanford of South Carolina, liberal Congressman Sam Farr of California, climate activist Bill McKibben, a former petroleum engineer, an evangelical minister and a surfer all have in common? No, it’s not a joke. They all spoke out against offshore oil and gas drilling at our D.C. press conference for the Sea Party Coalition on November 4. The Sea Party aims to make opposition to proposed offshore drilling a major issue in the 2016 election.

President Obama’s decision two days later to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline after seven years of polarized debate, and the pushback it received, increases the likelihood that energy and the environment will play a prominent role in the upcoming election. And in the wake of the recent terrorist atrocity in Paris (followed by similar outrages in Mali and Nigeria) the Paris Climate Summit and what comes out of that will likely further polarize the elections and challenge the Republican Party’s climate change position of denial. My hope is that it will also mark the beginning of a global commitment to end our dangerous oil addiction that both funds terrorism and threatens the planet.

For my complete analysis of our Sea Party event under an 85-foot life sized blue whale see my article “Fish don’t like oil spills and neither do I”: Finally, something environmentalists and conservatives can agree on,” in Salon magazine.



On November 19, Oceana, the Southern Environmental Law Center and other environmental groups invited business people and locally elected leaders to Washington D.C. to meet with the Obama administration and members of Congress to talk about their opposition to offshore drilling in states that have been targeted for acoustic surveying and drilling (and inevitable spilling).

After Shell Oil hit a dry hole in the Chukchi Sea and announced it was giving up fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic Ocean (for now) and the Obama administration cancelled two other pending oil lease sales off our Northern coast (see Blue Notes #140) two strategies seem to have emerged among those battling offshore oil. One is focusing on the hope that President Obama, increasingly committed to addressing climate change and leaving behind an action-based legacy, will reverse course in the final days of his administration and also withdraw his proposed Atlantic lease sales.

The focus of this work combines inside the beltway lobbying with continued grassroots mobilization to convince mostly Republican pro-oil governors in the South (along with pro-oil drilling democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia) that it will cost them politically to continue on the track they’re on. The Obama administration has indicated it will not pursue leasing in federal waters off states that don’t want it, so obviously if governors can be turned against the drilling that would make it easier for Obama to withdraw the lease sales.


The Sea Party Coalition including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Blue Frontier and some 60 other groups believes that while it would be great if President Obama were to reverse his past mistake in opening up the Arctic and Atlantic to drilling, it’s at least as likely that decision will be made by the next president. They plan, through voter education and mobilization to make offshore oil drilling an issue during the 2016 elections that the presidential candidates will have to address. Then next summer, as Blue Frontier did in 2012, we will send a letter to the final two candidates from ocean leaders in conservation, recreation, science and business to find out where they stand on the future of our public seas including offshore drilling and publicize the results so that the public can know where they stand on protecting the blue in our red, white and blue.

In the 1980s when California defeated plans for new offshore drilling (see my book, ‘The Golden Shore’) the issue was coastal pollution versus energy. Today, as climate activist Bill McKibben pointed out at the Sea Party press conference, even if there is no oil spill from offshore operations and the oil is refined and burned in cars and power plants we create a carbon-dioxide spill into that atmosphere that will continue heating the ocean, raising sea levels and changing the basic chemistry of seawater in a way not good for complex life on our blue planet

For millions of people from Dewey Beach Delaware to Pawley’s Island South Carolina and Key West Florida questions of strategy or whether offshore drilling is an ocean issue or a climate issue are less important than that the threat of offshore oil go away, hopefully forever and that we begin to deal seriously with the rising seas and more powerful typhoons, droughts and extreme weather that are becoming a part of our daily lives because of our burning of fossil fuels (and forests).

The good news is there are some ideas so inherently stupid – be it processing and pumping tar sands for export like the Keystone scheme proposed or continuing high-risk at sea oil exploitation – that we can actually defeat them and offer something better (job generating clean energy and marine sanctuaries) if we all school together.

By David Helvarg


Poll Reveals Americans Oppose Keeping Orcas In Captivity (Sharing this article I received.)

“WDCS, together with The Humane Society of the United States and the Animal Welfare Institute, released the first-ever nationwide opinion poll gauging attitudes about keeping orcas, also known as killer whales, in captivity for public display that shows more Americans oppose than support the practice. The poll found that only 1 in 4 people are in favor of the practice.
Overall, support for keeping killer whales in captivity is low, the poll found, at 26 percent. More telling of the tide of public opinion, however, is that strong opposition to this practice is triple that of strong support, with 24 percent of respondents indicating they are strongly opposed and only 8 percent strongly favoring the practice. The data suggests the tide is turning and support for captivity is waning.
The data also suggest that opposition only increases as Americans further consider the question of orca captivity. Whatever educational value the public recognizes in orca exhibits is outweighed by concerns over the impacts of removing these animals from their natural habitat and keeping them in captivity. Significantly, the poll reveals that a vast majority, 71 percent, of respondents say that if zoos, aquaria and marine mammal theme parks were to end the practice of keeping killer whales, it would make no difference in their desire or decision to visit. The June survey reached a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 U.S. adults.
“With recent events shining a spotlight on performing orcas in places like SeaWorld, including the deaths of two trainers and current court challenges questioning the legality, safety, and appropriateness of keeping killer whales in confinement, we felt it time to measure public attitudes about orcas in captivity,” stated Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for WDCS. “The public has glimpsed the darker side of the captivity industry and is becoming disenchanted with it. The true face of captivity is actually quite repugnant.”
Other key findings of the poll include:
* Opposition to the practice is motivated more by concern over the welfare impacts to orcas in captivity than by the notion that keeping orcas in captivity represents a danger to humans.
*Over 80 percent of respondents believe that the inability of orcas to engage in natural behaviors, and the negative consequences of confinement in small pools—including stress and illness—is a sufficient reason to stop keeping orcas in captivity.
*Americans want to learn about orcas. Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed have sought to learn about whales either through live or virtual means. While one-third of the sample had visited a zoo, aquarium or marine mammal theme park, two-thirds had learned about orca whales through museum exhibits, IMAX films, news, television and online sources, revealing that more Americans are seeking information about orcas from sources other than zoo or aquaria.
*The results, when broken down by gender, are even more striking. While men are evenly divided on the question (32% favor, 34% oppose), women oppose orca captivity by a highly significant margin of more than 2-to-1 (21% vs. 45%). Astonishingly, just 5% of US women “strongly” support captivity for this species, and only 11% of men.
(*Only 5% of women and 11% of men “strongly” favor orca captivity)
Despite recently reopening its `Dine with Shamu’ show where trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed, complete with new lift-bottom floors intended to provide some protections from dangerous encounters with orcas. SeaWorld is mired in legal and regulatory challenges on the heels of the recent determination by the courts that affirmed the safety violations cited by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA’s citation slapped the SeaWorld with a `willful’ safety violation –its most severe category–and a $75,000 fine following a six-month investigation of the February 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. SeaWorld originally contested the citation issued by OSHA in August 2010, and spent nearly two weeks in court providing testimony to oppose the OSHA ruling. The hearing concluded in November 2011. Although the judge’s verdict downgraded the category of the violation and associated fine from `willful’ to `serious,’ it upholds the original citation against SeaWorld and required outlined safety measures be implemented within 10 days of the verdict becoming final.
As the time has come due for SeaWorld to implement those safety measures affirmed by the court, it has instead decided to further contest the OSHA citation and fight the judge’s ruling by requesting an appeal for review by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC). Procedurally, either SeaWorld or OSHA can request a discretionary review from the presidentially-appointed review board of the independent Commission, and as a result, the battle continues.
OSHA may also decide to file a cross petition to reinstate the original violation against SeaWorld back to `willful,’ because of SeaWorld’s continuing unabated and unprotected exposure of trainers to safety hazards. The court ruled that SeaWorld must adopt safety abatements that provide equal or greater protection than staying out of the water altogether, and although in-water interactions have ceased for the time being, trainers are still exposed to safety hazards in the absence of physical barriers being utilized at the parks. SeaWorld had until last week to certify that those abatements were in place.
With this appeal, SeaWorld is most likely anticipating that the abatements it has installed – such as a fast-rising false-bottom floors in one of its pools – will not satisfy OSHA’s requirements and permit a return of the trainers into the water with the killer whales. Any of the OSHRC commissioners may also, at his or her own motion, bring a case before the Commission for review. Employers and other parties may appeal Commission rulings to the appropriate US Court of Appeals. The fight may be far from over.
“SeaWorld refuses to acknowledge that it might be captivity that is the problem, rather than their inability to manufacture a controlled environment for these orcas,” stated Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for WDCS. “They are missing the point completely if they think they can eliminate the risks associated with an artificial and stressful environment. Captivity is a depravity, and until this is recognized, SeaWorld will be fighting a losing battle. Spare air and lift-bottom floors will never protect a trainer from the speed and intensity of an orca attack. I think the public is catching on and is now in a better position to make a choice that is in the best interest of trainers and orcas.”
According to poll data which indicates that the public’s desire to visit marine parks is not contingent upon having captive orcas, SeaWorld could adopt a different business model that eliminate its orcas in captivity, and focus on conservation and education, including rehabilitation of sick or injured animals.
In light of these findings, support for the continuing confinement of orcas in captivity appears to be waning, and WDCS continues its call for an end to this practice. The physical, social and mental needs of orcas cannot be met in captivity and the public display industry is a threat to populations in the wild that are targeted by live capture operations used to supply public display programs worldwide.
Visit WDCS’s Orca Watch to learn more details about orcas in captivity.
Current distribution of captives
A total of 42 orcas are held in captivity (13 wild-captured plus 29 captive-born) in 11 marine parks in 6 different countries.”

What to eat (and what NOT to eat)

Suffering from a bit of writer’s block so just “diving” in to get back into the swing. Thought this was interesting (afraid I can’t cite the source…apologies to the creator…but I am NOT taking credit, just passing the info along).

I am also contemplating giving up meat and fish but FYI, here are some helpful tips re seafood.

“Fortunately, there is something you can do about it. Sign your name to our Sustainable Seafood Pledge, and take a break from eating these overfished species:


Orange Roughy

Chilean Seabass

Atlantic Cod

Bluefin Tuna


Red Snapfish

Atlantic Flat Fish


King Crab

And while you’re helping to give these species the chance to repopulate, try some of these delicious and nutritious sustainable alternatives:

Pacific Sardines (wild caught)

Salmon (wild caught, from Alaska)

Barramundi (farmed, from the U.S.)

Rainbow Trout (farmed)

Arctic Char (farmed)”

Follow-up to my Dec. 13, 2011 blog on Ocean Debris

On West Coast, Looking for Flotsam of a Disaster
Published: March 13, 2012
Wreckage from the tsunami off the coast of Japan last year is slowly making its way to American shores, and beachcombers say the debris has begun to reach land.