Sunday, July 11, 2010

Just imagine what could have been: Oil-soaked Oregon beaches!

Matt Love wrote an interesting piece in the Sunday Oregonian on the topic of proposed offshore oil drilling along the Oregon coast in the late 1970s.[1]

He begins his article with reference to a 1978 pamphlet "Oregon and offshore oil," written by a body identified as the "Governor's Task Force on Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Development." The year prior, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had determined that prospects for discovering oil off the Oregon and Washington coasts was lowest in the country and, therefore, not worth the hassle.

However, Governor Bob Straub lobbied the BLM to reconsider this conclusion in the hopes that offshore drilling might, after all, be proven feasible.

Love notes the irony in Straub's efforts when he writes that this "was the same Bob Straub who, 10 years earlier as state treasurer, had led the successful fight to stop the relocation of a section of Highway 101 down Nestucca Spit." In addition to this campaign, Straub had been involved in a number of other environmental and conservation efforts that contributed to his "reputation as a supporter of a green Oregon," including pushing for the Willamette Greenway Plan to increase public access to the river and abate water pollution. Observers throughout the nation considered the Oregon Beach Bill and Willamette Greenway Plans landmark efforts to safeguard and improve environmental amenities. Further, as governor, Straub

    successfully recruited nonpolluting, labor intensive industries. He helped quash plans for the Mount Hood Freeway, rechanneled the money into mass transit and jump-started Portland's light-rail system.[2]

In spite of Straub's lobbying, offshore drilling along the Oregon Coast did not happen -- in part because Congress banned drilling in offshore waters in 1981.

Since 1981, there have been a number of international events that have spurred interest in restoring the option of offshore oil drilling in the United States. These events include, of course, the attacks of September 11, 2001, the two-term reign of an administration heavily influenced by petroleum lobbyists, and two ongoing wars in the Middle East. In September 2008 George Bush II rescinded an executive moratorium on offshore drilling, and the same year Congress did not re-authorize the 1981 ban.[3] Just a few months before the Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe of 2010, President Obama was calling for renewing efforts to explore offshore drilling opportunities.[4]

Love concludes his piece with a thought-provoking question "Do we ever learn anything from our history in this country?" (emphasis mine). I have a short answer and a long answer in reply:

    ** Short answer: Yes.
    ** Long answer: This question can be read in at least two ways. The first is that it's asking "will we learn something from the current Gulf catastrophe, our endless Middle Eastern wars, global climate change, etc., that will enable us to move away from reliance on fossil fuels?" The second is that it's asking "are there any examples of us learning something from our history and actually trying to apply it?"

On the first implied question: I imagine we'll learn something from all of this, because economic downturns, environmental catastrophes, fruitless wars, and over-exploitation of resources has generally led to technological, cultural, economic, and political change -- and some of this change has come from what a given society has learned as opposed to what that society has had forced upon it. However, none of us are likely to come up with a prognostication that will be entirely accurate regarding what these changes will be. They're much easier to discern looking backward than peering into the future.

On the second implied question: We certainly have learned things, and the examples are quite numerous . . . and I had originally intended to list a few of these examples when I realized how vast this task would be. For instance, the Bush I administration in 1991 learned from the example of the Vietnam War and did not allow reporters to document the arrival of deceased military men and women from our recent and ongoing Middle East invasions; I don't imagine this was the kind of learning that Love is referring to. Another example would be that we no longer allow the spraying of DDT in the U.S. to eradicate mosquitoes . . . but DDT is still being sprayed selectively in other countries; this is a kind of learning. Congress finally banned lead-based paints in 1978 after finally learning what European nations had been learning since the 1920s.

When considering all of these examples, it seems more likely that there's a third implied "learning" that Love is referring to in his article. This kind of learning is the kind that comports with his own idea of what is right and wrong, and the kind of energy regime and economic system that he and others of like mind would prefer to see.

[1] Matt Love, "Offshore drilling: Walk along the Oregon coast, and think of Louisiana," Sunday Oregonian, July 11, 2010, .

[2] Following Tom McCall's two terms, Straub served from 1975-1979. See "Governor Robert W. Straub," Oregon Historical Society, accessed July 11, 2010.

[3] Jason Chavis, "Offshore Drilling Ban History,", accessed July 11, 2010; "Congress Allows Offshore Oil Drilling Ban to Expire," Environmental News Service, Sep. 30, 2008.

[4] Steven Thomma, "Obama overlooked key points in giving OK to offshore drilling," McClatchy Newspapers, June 11, 2010.


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