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Gulf reopens to drilling, Victoria Principal aids fight to block it

December 14, 2011|By Dean Kuipers
  • BPs oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon burns in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. Sales reopened Wednesday for new oil and gas leases in the gulf, including to BP, and advocacy groups are suing over incomplete or nonexistent environmental analysis.
BPs oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon burns in the Gulf of Mexico in April… (EPA/U.S. Coast Guard )

Sale of gas and oil leases officially restarts in the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday, after a hiatus following the BP oil spill in 2010, and environmental groups are stepping up lawsuits, claiming not enough is known about the effects of that spill.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the oceans advocacy group Oceana are pushing forward with a lawsuit over the environmental impacts of the Gulf spill, financed partly by a “six-figure” donation from “Dallas” star Victoria Principal. It is the second such donation from the actress to help these groups fight offshore oil drilling.

“This is the first lease sale that has been offered since the Deepwater Horizon spill. Government did get back to business very quickly by allowing drilling to continue in the Gulf, by letting BP back into the Gulf and giving them permits to drill,” says Jackie Savitz, senior campaign director with Oceana.

“In order to do that, [the government is] required to do an analysis of the environmental impact, and they haven’t done an adequate job with that. We actually have a real practical example of what a spill can do to the ecosystem, but we haven’t finished the analysis of that: the studies aren’t out yet, and the environmental impact analysis – the government basically dismisses them, says, ‘Oh well, they’re not out yet, so too bad.’”

Savitz says that the absence of environmental analysis on the BP spill is problematic for two reasons: One, there isn’t a new assessment of how a future spill could effect the Gulf ecosystem, and two, there isn’t a new baseline for how much it’s already been damaged, for instance, how populations of turtles and fish have been affected.

“We don’t have that information, so, to say, ‘Oh, we listed the potential effects, and we figure it’s going to be OK,’ when we haven’t seen the science at all, means that it’s basically premature, thatit’s essentially illegal, in our view,” adds Savitz.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and Oceana have been fighting a four-coast battle to monitor and slow offshore drilling, watching the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean off Alaska. Principal, who is an oceans advocate, gave the money this week to support this comprehensive effort. The Obama administration has effectively kept new Pacific coast drilling off the table, but renewed efforts by Shell and other companies looking to drill off Alaska have caused the environmental groups to ramp up advocacy work there.

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-Dean Kuipers

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