RESPONSES TO ARGUMENTS MADE IN SUPPORT OF
SEISMIC BLASTING AND OFFSHORE DRILLING
Gregory L. Weiss, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Roanoke College
President Trump and the Interior Department have proposed an “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy” which would create 47 possible auctions of drilling rights in more than 90 percent of the U.S. outer continental shelf. The plan opens the door to selling leases in 25 of the nation’s 26 offshore planning areas: 19 in the Alaska region, seven in the Pacific region, and nine in the Atlantic. Twelve additional leases are proposed for the Gulf of Mexico. The plan is unprecedented in its scope; no prior administration has ever proposed so many lease sales in a single five-year offshore drilling program.
The following responds to key arguments made in support of seismic blasting and offshore drilling.
Pro-Drilling Argument #1: “Seismic Blasting is Not Harmful to Marine Life.”
I draw four conclusions from a thorough review of the scientific literature on potential harm to marine life by seismic blasting.
(1) There are a small number of highly qualified scientists from several academic disciplines who have concluded that, while there may be some short-term and localized harm to marine life, there is not compelling evidence that seismic testing presents potential large-scale harm. Many of these scientists are employed by the oil and gas industry or are sponsored by fossil fuel companies, the American Petroleum Industry (a lobbying group), or a professional society such as the Society of Petroleum Engineers – all groups with a highly vested interest in the results (Tenera Environmental, 2011). However, to be fair, there are a few highly-credentialed scientists without any apparent financial interest in the results who accept these findings.
(2) These scientists often rely on a 2004 federal environmental assessment of seismic surveys in the Gulf of Mexico. The Interior Department’s now-defunct Minerals Management Service (MMS) concluded that seismic sound levels remain powerful only for approximately 325 yards and that beyond that, the sound approximates that of a commercial vessel. The MMS did acknowledge that there were “potentially adverse” effects, such as hearing loss in marine mammals, but it concluded that these did not rise to the level of “significant environmental impact.” The MMS also acknowledged that the scientific study of acoustic-based impacts on marine life began only recently and that it is difficult to prove that no greater harm is occurring (for example, as when marine mammals develop compromised hearing and become easy prey for predators at sea).
(3) There is a very large number of highly qualified scientists from several academic disciplines who have concluded that there is compelling evidence that seismic blasting causes significant harm to marine life and at all stages of development. These harms emanate from (a) the very loud airgun noise combined with the fact that sound travels better/further underwater (five times faster than through air), (b) the ears of many marine animals are structured differently than human ears allowing them to hear noises at higher and lower pitches than humans and at higher and lower intensities, and (c) much of marine life depends primarily on “echolocation” or sound for communication and for finding food. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has recorded sounds from seismic air guns more than 1,860 miles from the source (Davis, 2018).
Michael Jasny, an expert on the law and policy of ocean noise pollution, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and a director at the Natural Resources Defense Council states (Merrigan, 2017):
Imagine dynamite going off in your neighborhood not just once but every ten seconds for days and weeks and months. Now imagine that you can’t see and that you depend on your hearing for just about everything. That’s what it’s like for marine mammals and other species when seismic ships pound the ocean. The ocean is a world of sound, not sight, and testing can harm marine life, especially endangered whales. Seismic guns are disruptive enough to silence species over literally tens of thousands of square miles, to drive them from their habitat, to disrupt their feeding and breeding. Fishing alliances up and down the Atlantic are also against the testing because the blasting can cause fish populations to leave. For some fisheries, it’s meant losses in catch of 40 to 80 percent over areas the size of small states.
In March, 2015, 75 prominent marine scientists from around the world sent President Obama a letter declaring that seismic testing represented a significant threat to marine life (Phys.org, 2015). “Our expert assessment is that the federal government’s premise is not supported by the best available science. On the contrary, the magnitude of the proposed seismic activity is likely to have significant, long-lasting and widespread impacts on the reproduction and survival of fish and marine mammal populations in the region (Moore, 2018).
Zooplankton, which are essential for the health and productivity of global marine ecosystems have suffered significant mortality from blasting. In a June 2017 study published in the highly-respected journal Nature, a team of marine ecologists found that, “experimental airgun signal exposure decreased zooplankton abundance when compared with controls, as measured by sonar and net tows, and caused a two–to threefold increase in dead adult and larval zooplankton” (Tollefson, 2017).
An article in the Canadian Journal of Zoology reports that seismic surveys disturb the communication, navigation and eating habits essential to the survival of marine wildlife; damage fish with air bladders; and destroy marine wildlife eggs and larvae. Seals have been found to display dramatic avoidance behavior, a slower heart rate, ceasing feeding and hauling out of the ocean. Turtles and fish have shown reduced hearing sensitivity and increased embryonic mortality. For whales and dolphins, which rely on their hearing to find food, communicate, and reproduce, being able to hear is a life or death matter (Bowmans, 2017). This finding was affirmed by 28 top marine mammal scientists who declared unequivocally that widespread seismic surveys may represent a tipping point for right whales, “contributing significantly to a decline towards extinction” (Funk, 2017).
Even the Bureau of Ocean Management’s own Environmental Impact Statement of seismic testing in the Atlantic predicts “negligible to minor” harm for most wildlife but “moderate” harm for marine mammals and turtles. An estimated 138,000 marine animals would be injured in some way and perhaps as many as 13.6 million could have their migration, feeding habits, and other behavioral patterns disrupted by seismic testing (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, 2014).
(4) Claims that recently discovered improvements in seismic testing technology have eliminated potential harm to marine life are over-stated. The three most-discussed improvements in seismic testing relate to:
Improved use of assisting computer technology, which provide enhanced resolution, complex geology imaging, and cost effectiveness in both exploration and production, but have almost no effect on the harm issue.
Improved monitoring of marine life movement near seismic testing sites with concomitant ceasing of airgun blasting when marine life comes too close. The latter change makes the assumption that harm occurs only in close proximity to the airgun blasting (which most dispute) and that marine life movement near the site is so sparse that ceasing airgun blasting every time a creature comes near is practical (it is not).
There are other new techniques now being studied. Some (e.g., creating a bubble wrap around the airgun noise) may be successful in reducing potential harm to marine life, but it is too early to say (Kuhl, 2012).
Conclusion: A preponderance of the evidence finds significant harm to marine life from seismic blasting. Industry analysts attempt to avoid this conclusion by defining only an extraordinarily high level of harm as being significant.
Argument #2: “Offshore Drilling is Now Safe Due to Raised Safety Standards.”
In 2010, the disastrous BP oil spill occurred when a well blew out in the Gulf of Mexico. The BP Gulf oil spill killed 11 rig workers, one million coastal and offshore birds, thousands of dolphins, sea turtles and other marine animals, exposed hundreds of cleanup workers and other gulf residents to toxic chemicals, and prompted a six-month shutdown of all deepwater drilling in the gulf.
Following the disaster, President Obama formed a high-level investigative panel – consisting of a wide variety of experts including the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Medicine - to make recommendations for improving safety. The panel concluded that the oil and gas companies had done a terrible job of regulating themselves, often putting profit above safety, and that additional safety regulations were needed (Egan, 2018). After six years of planning, several new safety regulations were put into effect.
In April 2017, President Trump ordered Secretary of the Interior Zinke to eliminate as many as possible of these safety rules. The Trump changes are designed to save money for fossil fuel companies and to give them an inducement to do more drilling. The Bureau of Safety and Enforcement (BSSE) estimated a savings of $228 million over 10 years; independent sources such as The Wall Street Journal estimated $900 million savings for the companies over 10 years. The changes included (Friedman and Tabuchi, 2017):
Eliminating a requirement that operators certify through a third party that their safety devices are functioning properly (a real issue in the BP disaster)
Eliminating equipment failure reporting requirements
Eliminating the word “safe” from a well-control rule in order to reduce the standard regulators use in evaluating permits
Reducing controls on blowout preventers, devices that are intended to stop explosions in undersea oil and gas wells (in the Deepwater Horizon spill, a supposedly fail-safe blowout preventer failed after a section of drill pipe buckled)
Trump also appointed Scott Angelle, a former Louisiana utility regulator, who was paid a total of $989,238 between 2013 and 2016 as a member of the board of directors of Sunoco Logistics, to be Director of BSSE. Unlike his predecessors - two retired Coast Guard admirals - Angelle lacks any experience in maritime safety. Angelle asserts there was no evidence of systemic problems in offshore drilling regulation at the time of the spill. This view contradicts the commission's findings and reviews by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and a joint investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Interior Department.
In addition, President Trump’s Interior Department stopped research (a $580,000 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine) to make drilling platforms safer. The National Academies are nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to solve complex problems and inform policies related to science, technology and medicine (Fears, 2017).
In response to the changes, Donald Boesch (2017) of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and a member of the panel stated:
I served on the bipartisan National Commission that investigated the causes of this epic blowout. We spent six months assessing what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon and the effectiveness of the spill response, conducting our own investigations and hearing testimony from dozens of expert witnesses.
Our panel concluded that the immediate cause of the blowout was a series of identifiable mistakes by BP, the company drilling the well; Halliburton, which cemented the well; and Transocean, the drill ship operator. We wrote that these mistakes revealed "such systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry." The root causes for these mistakes included regulatory failures.
Now, however, the Trump administration wants to increase domestic production by reducing the regulatory burden on industry. In my view, such a shift will put workers and the environment at risk, and ignores the painful lessons of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Michael Bronwich, the first director of BSSE, challenged the administration's return to a system where drilling oversight and collection of fees is handled by the same agency – a clear conflict of interest (Quoted in Eilperin and Grandoni, 2017). Miyoko Sakashita, director of the oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity, said "By tossing aside the lessons from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Trump is putting our coasts and wildlife at risk of more deadly oil spills. Reversing offshore safety rules isn't just deregulation, it is willful ignorance" (Quoted in Traywick, 2017).
The elimination of many safety regulations is especially concerning in our area due to several trends in the industry, including:
Since Deepwater Horizon, explosions, deaths, injuries and leaks in the oil industry have continued to occur mainly from production facilities. On-the-job fatalities are higher in oil and gas extraction than any other U.S. industry.
The increased amount of drilling that will be done in the future in much more dangerous deepwater areas. Offshore oil now accounts for about one-third of our domestic field production, and some 80 percent of this comes from Gulf of Mexico deepwater locations. A key underlying assumption is that ongoing technology solutions to production safety and environmental challenges will be developed and deployed – that current safety provisions are not adequate for the higher level of danger.
The United States lags behind other countries in safety precautions for hurricane conditions. This is disappointing given the high and increasing level of hurricane activity in the Gulf and along the Southeast coast (Zhang, 2017).
The Southeast coast has been determined to be high in environmental sensitivity to an oil spill. This means that the damage from a spill could be especially serious in this area (Der, 2017).
The argument that we would be drilling more for gas than oil is without merit. There is no way you can extract gas without extracting oil and incurring the same risk of spills and leaks. The American Petroleum Institute and other oil industry groups have stated that without drilling it is not possible to predict with certainty whether a field will contain oil, natural gas, or both. If an oil company drills a well expecting gas and discovers commercial quantities of oil, that oil will be produced.
The final complexity is that even the most stringent safety regulations would not stop all oil leaks and spills. The BSSE compiles all spills reported from drilling and oil production on the Outer Continental Shelf. A total of 347 sizable spills were reported between 1964 and 2012, resulting in more than 230 million gallons of oil and other petroleum products being dumped into the ocean. Of those 347 spills, only 115 were caused by something that could have been prevented by new safety regulations. The rest (originating in collisions, external forces, weather, and most prominently, human error would have happened no matter what (Mayfield, 2016).
Conclusion: There is some improved safety technology in the last eight years but fewer safety regulations in the last few months. Drilling for oil and gas will remain an extremely dangerous process.
Argument #3: “There is Now Very Little Chance of a Serious
Oil Spill or Leak Which Damages the Environment.”
Oil spills and leaks occur when liquid petroleum is released into the environment. This can happen at sea by drilling rigs, oil platforms, wells, tankers, and pipelines – anything involved in the drilling, extraction, processing, or transportation processes. Gas leaks can occur from many of these same sources and is especially dangerous because of its highly explosive nature and by the fact that it contains methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period in the atmosphere. (It should be noted that most of the oil wastes that enter the ocean come from sources other than accidental spills or leaks. These sources include such things as oily storm water drainage from cities and farms, untreated waste disposal from factories and industrial facilities, and unregulated recreational boating.) However, oil spills and leaks remain a very serious problem.
How often are there major oil spills (more than 100,000 gallons) in U.S. waters? The petroleum industry's own figures indicate the U.S. has averaged more than 13 pipeline spills and 27 platform spills a year – about 40 per year or more than 3 per month. And tankers spill more often and more oil than platforms or pipelines (Mariano, 2010). Between 1964 and 2012, more than 230 million gallons of oil and other petroleum products were dumped into the ocean. Just in the last decade, there have been two gigantic oil spills in U.S. waters: the 2010 BP explosion spilling more than 205 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf and creating a spill 70 miles wide and 130 miles long (and spreading some oil even further) and the 2016 Shell Oil spill of more than 500,000 gallons from a ruptured pipeline that spewed oil over more than 26 square miles off the coast of Louisiana (Donaghy, 2016).
There are an estimated 30,000 smaller oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico each year. We don’t hear about most of them because the Coast Guard defines any spill of less than 100,000 gallons as being minor or moderate and they get little media attention. Moreover, the Coast Guard allows reporting of the size of spill on an honor system for the oil companies. Everyone figures there is massive underreporting. Even the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates that some 500,000 barrels of oil have seeped into American waters from leaks that were never reported (Grimm, 2016).
Active oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico reported between 2005 and 2016 (Photo by Wired)
There are 36,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf – either oil was drawn down to a small amount or never had much to begin with. But, many are still leaking oil into the Gulf. Add to this the 2.4 million miles of oil pipe in the United States – it also is a source of leaks (Ellis, 2016).
Even when there is not a spill and everything goes "right," the process of oil drilling releases thousands of gallons of polluted water into the ocean, called drilling muds. These muds are generally unregulated and contain toxins such as benzene, zinc, arsenic, radioactive materials and other contaminants. High concentrations of metals have been found around drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, and a study by the Pew Charitable Trust concluded that wells discharge up to 2,000 tons of waste material each year.
The oil industry implies that locating offshore drilling platforms 50 miles from shore will prevent disaster to coastal communities. However, the Deepwater Horizon was located 42 miles from shore and it scattered oil along 1,313 miles of shoreline, heavily oiling beaches as far as 288 miles to the west and 155 miles to the east. This is not protection (CleanEnergy.Org, 2017).
Oil spills and leaks can cause catastrophic damage to the environment and to deep ocean and coastal fishing and fisheries. Oil spilled on the water floats and prevents sunshine from passing through it. Oil spills can be fatal for plant, animal, and human life. The substance is so toxic that it can cause massive loss of species in an entire area. Oil spill penetrates into the plumage and fur of birds and breaks down the insulating capability of feathers, which makes them heavier and unable to fly, and leads to death by poisoning or hypothermia. Survivors are often impaired for life in ways such as not being able to control their body temperature or parents not being able to find the scent of their offspring to allow for feeding. Blindness is not uncommon.
If oil waste reaches the shoreline or coast, it interacts with sediments such as beach sand and gravel, rocks and boulders, vegetation, and terrestrial habitats of both wildlife and humans, causing erosion as well as contamination. Waves, water currents, and wind move the oil onto shore with the surf and tide.
Beach sand and gravel saturated with oil may be unable to protect and nurture normal vegetation and populations of the substrate biomass . Rocks and boulders coated with sticky residue interfere with recreational uses of the shoreline and can be toxic to coastal wildlife.
Finally, there is the toll in human suffering – from loss of job, social stress, degradation of the local environment. After Deepwater Horizon, residents suffered considerable mental health problems with sharp increases in anxiety and clinical depression. The incidence of clinical depression in nearby coastal communities increased from about 10 percent to between 33 and 50 percent depending on the community (Bradley, 2017).
Conclusion: If you drill, you spill (and leak) and that can be catastrophic.
Argument #4: “Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic Will Reduce North Carolina Gas Prices.”
As noted by the Department of Energy under the Bush Administration, “Because oil prices are determined on the international market, any impact on average wellhead prices (from access to currently off-limit areas in the Atlantic, Pacific, and eastern Gulf regions) is expected to be insignificant. The amount of oil [in the Atlantic] would have an insignificant impact on gas prices at the pump and would have similarly insignificant impacts on the future cost of natural gas” (Moore, 2018).
The Energy Information Administration clearly states that drilling in the Atlantic will not lower the price of fuel. The Atlantic doesn’t contain enough oil to budge the price of gas. Even the opening of all offshore drilling areas in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Eastern Gulf of Mexico would decrease the price of gas by, at most, three cents per gallon and any such decrease would not occur until at least 2030 (CleanEnergy.Org, 2017).
Conclusion: The absence of effect of offshore drilling in the Atlantic on gas prices is overwhelmingly accepted by energy experts although industry analysts wish it were not so.
Argument #5: “A Federal Government Revenue Sharing Plan with Oil and
Gas Royalties Would Provide A Significant Economic Boost for Participating States.”
The royalties that oil and gas companies pay for the privilege of drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf constitute the country’s second-largest single source of revenue, exceeded only by the federal income tax. Legislatively, sharing of these revenues from offshore production in federal waters was passed in 2006 as part of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA). That law provided that four Gulf states (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) would begin receiving a small amount of money (a few million each) beginning in 2007 for already existing wells in a small, designated area. A second phase (which went into effect last year) included a larger Gulf area and wells created since 2007. A $500 million annual cap (total for all states) was instituted until 2055.
The early results of Phase 2 have been very discouraging for the states. The worldwide drop in the price of oil and the anticipated drop in demand from certain countries like China which are investing heavily in renewable sources of energy has profoundly decreased payments to states. Louisiana had budgeted for receipt of $140 million dollars in the first year of Phase 2; it will be receiving about $50 million (Stole, 2017). The current formula for these four states is:
For the first 3 miles out from the shoreline, states get to keep 100 percent of any royalties produced by oil and gas drilling. There is not likely to be drilling in this zone.
Between 3 and 6 miles from the shoreline, states get to keep 27 percent of the royalties. The reasoning is that federal drilling in this area sucks out some of the oil from deposits within the initial 3-mile line, so these payments are meant to compensate for that lost revenue.
Beyond 6 miles from the shoreline is considered federal territory. For new drilling projects, states get 37.5 percent of the royalties.
However, there are two problems for East coast states looking at this as a potential bonanza. First, there is no current law that provides royalty payments to any state other than the original four. Two related bills in the House of Representatives have stalled. One of the bills would have instituted a similar but tweaked formula for Atlantic, Alaskan, and Arctic water, but the other provided no revenue sharing. Both expanded drilling sites, eliminated human and marine animal protections, and reduced public participation in the permitting process. One included incentives for pursuing renewable energy sources (Wagner, 2017).
Second, both President Obama and President Trump have opposed additional revenue sharing. In 2017, President Trump referred to revenue sharing as unnecessary, a hindrance in lowering federal spending, and allowing states to receive money that properly belongs to the federal government. His intention is to disallow revenue sharing for Atlantic states and rescind it for Gulf states. Opposition to future revenue sharing is fairly broad-based and includes some key members of Congress, many taxpayer groups, and many balanced-budget advocates (Alexander, 2017). Other individuals and groups see revenue sharing as a type of “hush money” to entice states to allow their coasts to be endangered.
Conclusion: At this point, revenue sharing for North Carolina is very unlikely.
Argument #6: “Offshore Drilling Will Create a Large Number of Local Jobs.”
The issue of job creation is very important but difficult to measure. Proponents of offshore drilling need to make sure that they are not exaggerating the number of jobs created (and not ignoring the number of jobs that could be lost), and opponents need to make sure that they are not under-stating the number of jobs created. Four points about job creation seem most important.
(1) Unfortunately, the major study done on this topic was conducted by Quest Offshore Resources, a Texas-based company that provides research for the deepwater oil and gas industry. It was funded by the American Petroleum Institute (an oil and gas lobbying group) and the National Ocean Industries Association (which represents the offshore drilling industry) – a very subjective coalition to be certain. Most experts believe the report needs to be considered very cautiously.
How many jobs would be created in North Carolina should offshore drilling be conducted? The most honest answer is that it depends on several variables: the minimum distance from shore at which drilling would be permitted; the number of drilling leases granted; the number, size, and location of deposits identified; the price of oil (the higher it is, the farther from shore it is profitable to drill); and the size of the multiplier used to estimate the number of indirect jobs created. In formulating their job estimates, not surprisingly, Quest used the most favorable numbers possible to the oil and gas industry.
Quest assumed drilling would start at 30 miles offshore (it may be 35 or 50 miles, which would mean less drilling and fewer jobs).
Quest started with the price of oil at the time – a high price at $90 per barrel (it is now less than $50, which would reduce the distance from shore at which drilling would be profitable); the Quest report did use federal estimates to predict the future price of oil, but did not specify what range of prices through 2040 was used – high, low or a median. Douglas Wakeman, professor of economics at Meredith College states, “All economic estimates in the API report may be regarded as overestimates” (Quoted in Talton, 2015).
Quest estimated finding about twice as much oil and gas as has most estimates.
Quest used a multiplier of four to estimate indirect jobs created; that is a high multiplier and the number of indirect jobs created could be far less.
Using these questionable figures, Quest estimated that up to 55,000 jobs would be created in North Carolina by 2035 (279,000 on the East coast). Given that four years have passed since that estimate and the start-time would likely not be before 2021, the estimate for 2035 would now be 47,860. About 20,000 of these jobs would be offshore. The indirect jobs onshore would mostly be related to industrial infrastructure.
In 2011, it was estimated that Louisiana’s 24 offshore drilling rigs employed only 12,500 workers offshore (LaRocco, 2011). North Carolina would likely have far, far fewer rigs, thus one would expect far, far fewer offshore workers – another sign these data do not well align.
(Note: The bottom year should be 2035)
(If drilling started in 2021, add four years to the year so that 2017 = 2021)
Quest predicted by 2035 that $4 billion would be added to North Carolina revenues (it would now be less due to the later start). A considerable part of this amount comes in the form of revenue sharing which, as reported above, is very unlikely (Talton, 2015).
(2) What types of jobs would offshore drilling create? The oil and gas industry’s labor force is a broad spectrum of higher educated petroleum engineers and geologists to “blue collar” drillers and mechanics. These jobs create a wide range of onshore support services – helicopter companies that shuttle rig employees to and from shore, supply vessels, caterers, fabrication companies , etc. (Talton, 2015). Many of these jobs pay well.
It is clear that many of these workers – especially at the upper salary end – would be experienced workers brought in from Louisiana and Texas. David McGowan, executive director of the N.C. Petroleum Council, acknowledges that North Carolina currently does not have trained petroleum workers nor an educational system in place to train workers with needed skills. “Right now if they start some leasing off of North Carolina and drill some wells right in the beginning, those would be mostly transit jobs in engineering and things like that. They’re going to have to use people from areas where the rigs are coming from and trained employees to work on those rigs” (Quoted in Talton, 2015).
(3) How does the number of jobs created by offshore drilling compare to the number of jobs that NC has in the tourist industry? Dr. Laura Taylor, Director of the Center for Environmental and Resource Economic Policy and Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at N.C. State., says that the prevailing opinion that offshore drilling will lead to significant job creation here (something 90 percent of people believe) is false. Even accepting Quest’s over-stated estimate of 55,000 new jobs (20,000 direct) created directly and indirectly from offshore drilling in the oil and gas industry by 2035, that field would be relatively small within North Carolina’s economy. Health care currently ranks as the largest employer with 585,000 positions, and, even way down the list, the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector employs 29,500.
In coastal North Carolina, the tourism industry already employs many more people now than oil and gas would employ in 2035 states Lee Nettles, director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, and projected growth in tourism drives the number of jobs even higher in the future. Nettles said promises of economic benefit from oil and gas come at the peril of a proven tourism industry. “Oil and gas is a threat disguised as an opportunity,” he said (Hibbs, 2015).
(4) How does the number of jobs created by offshore drilling compare to the number of jobs that could be created by pursuing renewable energy sources? Looking just at wind power, North Carolina is situated perfectly to maximally benefit by wind power development. "Offshore wind power in North Carolina has the potential to generate more jobs, produce more power, and lead to a higher degree of energy independence from foreign sources than drilling for oil and gas does," said Randy Sturgill, Southeast organizer for Oceana's climate and energy campaign (Quoted in Hibbs, 2015).
A conservative estimate is that pursuing wind power development in the mid-Atlantic Planning Area (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina) would create more than twice the number of jobs as offshore drilling. An Oceana report, titled "Offshore Energy by the Numbers: An Economic Analysis of Offshore Drilling and Wind Energy in the Atlantic," makes the following estimates:
Over the next 20 years, offshore wind could create 91,000 more jobs than offshore drilling along the entire Atlantic Coast -- about twice as many.
In 13 years, offshore wind could generate more energy than could be provided by all of the economically recoverable oil and gas resources off the Atlantic Coast. In 20 years, wind could produce more than twice the energy of drilling.
Along the Atlantic Coast, nearly 1.4 million jobs -- mostly in fishing, tourism and recreation -- depend on healthy ocean ecosystems that are imperiled by offshore drilling, which has caused 11 spills of at least 50 barrels (2,100 gallons) in the U.S. alone from 2011 to 2013.
Conclusion: There are many variables that will determine the number of jobs created in North Carolina by offshore drilling. If everything is most favorable, some well-paying jobs will be created - though likely far fewer than predicted by Quest. Many of these will go to trained workers from Louisiana and Texas. If recoverable oil and gas are found off NC shores but not the shores of Brunswick County, the jobs created would most likely go to workers in these other areas. If reserves are found off our county’s shores, there is potential for job creation offshore and in the industrial infrastructure built on land. On the other hand, if everything turns out unfavorably, there would be very little if any job creation in Brunswick County.
Argument #7: “Seismic Blasting and Offshore Drilling Will Not Affect the Local Tourism Industry.”
Travel and tourism is a key segment of the American economy. Travel and tourism directly accounted for 2.7 percent of the United States’ Gross Domestic Product ($503.7 billion) in 2016, while its total contribution was 8.1 percent of the GDP ($1,509.2 billion). By 2027, it is forecast that the total contribution will rise to 9.3 percent of GDP ($2,099.6 billion). In 2016, altogether (direct and indirect) the total contribution of travel and tourism supported 9.4 percent of American jobs (14,207,000). This is forecast to increase to 11.3 percent of American employment or 18,416,000 jobs in 2027. No one disputes the fact that tourism is an important economic driver within the United States (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2017).
Along the eastern seaboard, Florida relies most on tourist dollars (12 percent of state GDP) but is closely followed by Georgia (11 percent), and South Carolina and Maine (10 percent). Most states (New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, and New York) are in the 4 to 7 percent range (Volcovici and Valdmanis, 2018).
In North Carolina, in 2015, $22.8 billion dollars were spent on travel and tourism spending providing 220,682 jobs (5.2 percent of total employment) (Burnett, 2017). While different states and different communities offer a variety of cultural amenities, it is the proximity to the water that is key for almost all of these states. There were nearly 250,000 ocean-related jobs in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia in 2012, and the ocean economy contributed $14.6 billion to the state economies and more than $7.5 billion in wages. This is one reason that almost all elected officials in coastal states on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans have always fought hard for their coastal communities and now oppose offshore drilling (Southern Environmental Law Center, 2018).
Coastal states understand the significant potential threat to tourism represented by offshore drilling.
Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, states: “This is a non-partisan no-go zone. We know how pollution devastates this state’s economy – tourism, commercial and recreational fishing, surfing, boating. Just look what happened to the economies in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. They are still suffering and research is showing long-term problems with the marine life in the Gulf” (O’Neill, 2018).
Sandra Bundy, a South Carolina realtor, states: “Tourists, homeowners, and renters won't appreciate rigs and tugboats circling the coastal waters. They'll also object to oil companies building refinery complexes on the coastland to transport oil. Where's the industrialization going to go? Somebody's neighborhood is going to get a huge disruption."
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine states: “Why would you give Florida a pass for tourism unless you acknowledge there is some risk of an environmental catastrophe. As I'm in the Hampton Roads area, I hear again and again from people connected with the military, connected with the tourism industry, people connected with the watermen's industry in the Chesapeake Bay and the Eastern Shore that offshore drilling is just too great a risk.”
The Tourist Industry
Does the coastal tourist industry support offshore drilling? No, of course not. Try to find one example of a tourist board endorsing offshore drilling as a way to increase tourism. There is nothing about offshore drilling that is a positive for tourism, and there are all kinds of dangers.
Coastal areas are usually thickly populated and attract many recreational activities and related facilities that have been developed for fishing, boating, snorkeling and scuba diving, swimming, nature parks and preserves, beaches, and other resident and tourist attractions. Oil waste that invades and pollutes these areas and negatively affects human activities can have devastating and long-term effects on the local economy and society. Property values for housing tend to decrease, regional business activity declines, and future investment is risky” (Water Encyclopedia, 2018).
A few years ago, when the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority adopted a resolution against offshore drilling, they became one of more than 600 tourism boards, chambers of commerce, restaurant associations, and fishing groups to take that stance. Earlier this year, the Surfrider Foundation and leaders of the coastal recreation and tourism industry presented Department of Interior representatives with letters signed by more than 1,000 coastal businesses and elected officials in opposition to new offshore oil drilling in U.S. waters. The Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast consists of 41,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families that are opposed to offshore oil drilling.
The Southern Environmental Law Center has stated, “The environmental impacts of offshore drilling and its accompanying infrastructure and refineries onshore were well known even before the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Ocean rigs routinely spill and leak oil—and sometimes blow out.
Even without a major spill, the industrialization and infrastructure associated with drilling—the rigs, refineries, pipelines, traffic, and routine spills and accidents—would irreparably change our coastal communities and economies (Southern Environmental Law Center, 2018). Analysis shows that coastal counties on the Gulf coast without such infrastructure generate twice as much tourism revenue (CleanEnergy.Org, 2017). When a catastrophic oil spill occurs, it is an economic disaster.
Conclusion: There is no question that offshore drilling will negatively affect coastal communities, reduce property values, and reduce tourism.
Argument #8: "Offshore Drilling Will Provide National Energy Security"
Although the terms “energy security” and “energy independence” have several layers of meaning, a straightforward definition is that a country produces all of the energy it needs without any requirement of energy imports. The term came into vogue in 1973 when the Arab oil embargo threatened America’s energy position. The situation is very much different today, but many older Americans still consider our energy position as being vulnerable. Recently, President Trump has identified “energy dominance” as a goal – this seems to mean that the United States produces so much energy that it can control world markets.
Due to a recent increase in energy production and decrease in demand, the United States today produces approximately 90 percent of the energy it uses. This overall figure, however, camouflages the fact that our country is energy independent in four of the five major energy sources:
Coal – the United States has a massive amount of coal, but it is unfortunately the most environmentally harmful energy source. The U.S. now is a net exporter of coal.
Nuclear – the uranium that fuels nuclear power is imported, but U.S. nuclear plants have a massive amount in storage.
Natural gas – the United States is considered to be “over-supplied” with natural gas; once technology makes it easier and safer to export, we will be a net exporter of gas.
Renewables – solar, wind, water, and geothermal are all inherently domestic energy sources; for all of the obvious reasons, they are the energy sources of the future; we will truly be energy secure only when we have fully developed these energy sources.
Oil is the only energy source for which the United States depends on a certain level of imports, and that is almost entirely due to its use as transportation fuel. The vast majority of oil in the United States is used in transportation, and nearly all of the transportation sector’s energy comes from oil. Almost no oil is used in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors (with the exception of the manufacture of plastics and chemicals). Building energy needs are covered by natural gas for heating, water heating, and cooking and by electricity for everything else. In turn, electricity is made from a mix of coal, natural gas, nuclear, and renewables but not oil (Fares, 2016). So, the discussion of achieving energy independence is typically a discussion of oil.
For reference points, the world consumes over 85 million barrels of oil every day (over 30 billion gallons). The U.S. alone consumes over 20 million barrels per day (over 7 billion gallons). The U.S. is now the world’s largest oil producer and its position is the best it has been in decades. In 2011, for the first time since 1949, the U.S. became a net exporter of finished products. Today, we still import about 7.5 million barrels of crude oil per day, but we export 1.8 million barrels of crude oil and more than 5 million barrels per day of finished (refined) products (Domm, 2017).
Had there been a desire, imports could have been eliminated by 2019. However, there are several reasons that importing some oil makes sense: (a) using economic interdependence as a means to stifle conflict, (b) trade agreements, (c) importing crude oil in order to refine and then export it as a finished product, and (d) logistics such as some U.S. refineries near Canada opting for close-by Canadian crude oil (Rapier, 2017).
Two other patterns elevate America’s position even more. First, the amount of oil the U.S. imports from Canada and Mexico (our free trade zone partners) exceeds the net amount of imported oil – that is, if no other factors were at play, we could important enough oil from these two countries to meet our needs. We are absolutely not dependent on potentially hostile trading partners.
Second, some energy analysts now believe the U.S. has the largest (still-in-the-ground) oil reserves in the world or is at least in the same echelon as Russia and Saudi Arabia (Cunningham, 2016). In addition, the United States maintains oil storage of 727 million barrels – the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). In 2017, President Trump proposed selling off half of the SPR - something he presumably would not do should there be any question whatsoever about America’s energy security now or in the future.
How important is the East coast to America’s energy security? Very, very little. The most optimistic estimates of oil in the Atlantic outer continental shelf are that it has one-half of 1 percent of global reserves. A more realistic estimate puts the Atlantic OCS reserves at less than a tenth of 1 percent of global reserves, according to figures from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (Dr. Laura Taylor quoted in Hibbs, 2017). The Department of the Interior concurs with this small estimated percentage estimating the production yield for the entire East coast would meet current oil demand for 132 days and current gas demand for 283 days (Moore, 2018).
Conclusion: The United States is on the verge of energy independence. Even if the Atlantic OCS offered an abundance of oil – which it very likely does not – our country does not need it for its energy.
Pro-Drilling Argument #9: “If God Did Not Want Us to Drill for
Oil and Gas Offshore, He Would Not Have Put Them There.”
Some people read a biblical text and find reasons to support seismic blasting and offshore drilling; other people read the same text, as Pete Key eloquently demonstrated at the February 19th BCC meeting, and find reasons to protect the natural environment. Some local supporters of drilling offshore contend that we have a “religious duty” to know how much oil and gas is under the ocean and that God would not have put oil and gas there if he did not mean for us to drill and extract it.
Of course, people are entirely welcome to their own religious views, and I do not wish to challenge them. But, when those views are used to justify policy decisions, it is only fair that they are logical and consistent with facts. This argument is neither. If persons believe that God gave us oil and gas beneath the ocean, who do they think gave us the sun, the wind, and water? If existence of undersea oil and gas compels its usage, why doesn’t the existence of sun, wind, and water compel their usage? Might we logically postulate that God made the renewable sources much more readily available and in unlimited supply and with far, far fewer dangers than the undersea fossil fuels thinking we would have the wisdom to pursue them and not oil and gas?
Moreover, this argument lacks understanding of what is involved in determining the quantity of oil and gas that exists. We have estimates now. To get more than that, it takes actual drilling , a process so logistically complex, so tremendously expensive, so wrought with dangers that it would never be used just to determine how much oil and gas are present in a location.
Conclusion: This is not a reason to set a policy regarding seismic blasting and offshore drilling.
Argument #10: “All Elected Republican Officials Should Support Offshore
Drilling Because It is Consistent with the Republican Party Platform.”
The idea of having elected officials ignore their conscience in setting policy or having them blindly follow a political party platform is completely disillusioning to me. I think it is very sad that protection of our natural environment is reduced to a politically partisan issue. I fought against offshore drilling when former President Obama pursued it just as I am now when current President Trump is pursuing it.
In fact, the offshore drilling issue has brought together members of all political parties, people of all political ideology, and people from large and small states and large and small communities in the 15 East Coast states and three West Coast states. In these 18 states, all 11 of the Democratic governors oppose offshore drilling as do 6 of the 7 Republican governors. In these 18 states, all 26 Democratic senators and an Independent oppose offshore drilling as do two of the nine Republican Senators. Seven Republican senators support. Importantly, four of the seven Republican supporters emphasize that drilling should only occur where nearby coastal communities are in favor. In total, 46 of these 54 (85 percent) elected officials oppose offshore drilling and even more when the nearby communities object.
Conclusion: Opposition to offshore drilling is expressed by members of all political parties – especially opposition when nearby coastal communities oppose.
Argument #11: “All Elected Officials Should Support Offshore
Drilling Because Most People Support Offshore Drilling.”
Most national polls began routinely asking respondents about offshore drilling in 2008 when the economic downturn began – a time when gas prices were very high at about $4.00 per gallon. Polls then showed strong support for offshore drilling in coastal waters as long as there were sufficient regulatory controls and as a way of reducing gas prices. Rasmussen Reports (2008) found 67 percent of respondents favored offshore drilling, and 64 percent believed it would lead to a decrease in gas prices.
Support for offshore drilling dropped to 44 percent after the BP Gulf oil spill in 2010 while opposition increased to 52 percent (Pew Research Center, 2010). The 44 percent supporting compared to 75 percent who supported increased federal funding for research on wind, solar, and hydrogen technology (Texeira 2010). The decrease in support lasted a little over a year and began to reverse in 2011 as gas prices shot upward. By mid-2011, support for offshore drilling increased back to 60 percent. However, 94 percent of respondents wanted the government to look for an alternative to oil (Broder, 2011).
A Pew Research Center poll in 2016 found most persons (52 percent) opposed offshore drilling while 45 percent supported it. Much greater support was expressed for renewable forms of energy with almost twice the percentage favoring expanding solar and wind power as expanding offshore drilling.
Some interesting patterns emerged when comparing attitudes with political party. 97 percent of liberal Democrats supported expansion of solar panel farms, but so did 83% of conservative Republicans. 95 percent of liberal Democrats supported expansion of wind turbine farms, but so did 75 percent of conservative Republicans. With regard to coal mining, fracking, and offshore drilling, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to support expansion, although the attitudes of liberal and moderate Republicans were very similar to those of conservative and moderate Democrats. These patterns mirror those found in a 10-year survey of attitudes about offshore drilling conducted by Mukherjee and Rahman and reported in 2016 in Energy Policy.
Finally, a very recent Pew Research Center study (January 2018) found the gap between the percentage supporting (42 percent) and the percentage opposing (51 percent) had widened to nine percentage points – the highest ever. Not surprisingly, people living within 25 miles of a coastline were most likely to oppose offshore drilling (Pew Research Center, 2018).
These patterns are all consistent with data from Brunswick County. Thirteen of the 18 municipalities in Brunswick County have passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling. Additional communities will be taking up the issue soon. To our knowledge, no community in Brunswick County has voted to support offshore drilling. This fact alone should convey broad opposition to offshore drilling in this county.
Conclusion: More people oppose than support offshore drilling, and opposition is increasing. Opposition is especially high in coastal communities.
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Robert Fares. October 31, 2016 “Is the U.S. Energy Independent?”
Darryl Fears. December 21, 2017 “This Study Aimed to Make Offshore Drilling Safer; Trump Just Put a Stop to It.”
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Fred Grimm. May 25, 2016 “Florida’s Offshore Oil-Drilling Buffer Zone under Attack in Congress.”
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Pew Research Center. September 30, 2016 “Strong Public Support for Expanding Solar, Wind Power.”
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Rasmussen Reports. June 17, 2008 “67% Support Offshore Drilling, 64% Expect it Will Lower Prices.”
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Sue Sturgis. January 21, 2015 “Offshore Wind Beats Drilling for Jobs and Energy in the Southeast.”
Kip Tabb. 2015 “Q and A: The Skinny on Seismic Surveys.”
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